There are days I definitely love my job. Today was one of those.
We had a group of students in from the southern part of the park today to do birding. They were 4th-6th graders, about 17 in all, and they had just finished doing some studies on birds in the Adirondacks.
For their birding program here, we had half sit in on a Bird of Prey program where they got to see, up close and personal, a red-tailed hawk, an American Kestrel and a great-horned owl. The other half went with me to learn the ins and outs of Birding (with a capital B). I reviewed binoculars (how to use them - as in how to focus), spotting scopes, field guides. We went outside and worked on techniques for finding birds in the forest. We discussed pishing and making squeaky noises.
But the highlight, of course, was when they actually saw birds.
The first group was wowed by red-breasted nuthatches. There were many of these little tree climbers flitting all over the place, and, as it turns out, the young have recently fledged and what we were seeing was foraging lessons! At one point we were watching a group of four: a small (and rather harried-looking) adult stuffing food (seeds and insects found on/in the tree bark) into the mouths of the larger (and brilliantly plummaged) offspring. They were going up and down and round and round the trees, flitting from one trunk to the next. The kids wanted to stay there and watch them the whole time...and we had only gone about ten feet down the path on our walk! I couldn't blame them - the nuthatches were fun to watch and this feeding behavior was a first for me as well.
The second group got a great view of an osprey flying overhead. "Look - there's a bird up there!" "It's a just crow." We trained our binocs on it and lo! and behold, it was not a crow, but another raptor to add to their list of raptors seen that day.
Chickadees, purple finches, robins and a chipping sparrow completed the roll call, with red-eyed vireos calling continuously in the background.
While not the most glamorous set of birds to encounter, for kids just learning how to use binocs, it was a great way to begin! I think one or two might even add birding to their list of hobbies as they get older.