Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kamana and Advanced Bird Language

This last summer I signed up for an independent studies program with the Wilderness Awareness School called "Kamana I - Path of the Naturalist." It was a very, very basic (introductory) course for folks who want to be naturalists. For me, it wasn't much use, but for someone who is new to nature studies, it would be good. None-the-less, this fall I signed up for "Kamana II," which builds on the skills and knowledge learned in the first program.

The key for success in the Kamana programs (there are four levels) is what they call the "Sit Spot" or "Secret Spot". This is a place that you find near your home that you visit every day for 45 minutes to an hour, absorbing (and later recording) what is going on. This involves watching, listening, smelling, tasting, studying, etc. Ideally, your spot has woods, a meadow and water. For most folks, though, it is the back yard, and if you are lucky, you have woods, a meadow and water in your back yard. Over the course of a year (or more) your observations include bird and mammal behavior, plant and tree ID, location of water sources, knowledge of all trails, dens and nests, etc. It is a really great activity and one that everyone (especially children) should do.

Well, last week I ordered the CD set "Advanced Bird Language," which I hoped would be useful in improving my tracking skills and general outdoor awareness. I listened to most of it yesterday, and I can report with confidence that it is probably the best thing I have gotten out of the Kamana program to date. The instructor (Jon Young, who is also the founder of the Wilderness Awareness School) is very enthusiastic about his topic and his enthusiasm is contagious.

So, what is this "bird language?" It's not about learning bird calls and songs (well, that's a small part of it), but rather it is about what the actions of the birds tell us is happening in the landscape around us. It's stuff that on one level we are aware of, but in truth we really don't know it because we don't pay attention to it. For example, when we go into the woods, we hear the birds call and we watch them fly. And we say "oh, there's a black-throated green," or "Ah! Common yellow-throat," and we move on. What we don't say is "why did those birds fly up so high?" or "why is the forest so silent?" By learning the behaviors of these birds, we can tell that a cat is coming through the yard and will appear "there" in 30 seconds, or that a sharp-shin hawk is about to cruise through the canopy. By learning what the birds are telling us, and how to move among them without sending out alarms, we may one day see the bear or the bobcat that is living secretly in the woods a hundred feet from the house! It's pretty neat, and if you are a naturalist (new or seasoned), you''ll want to get these CDs. Put 'em on your Christmas list!

For more information, check out www.wildernessawareness.org .

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