Connecting (and Birding) with Ocean Connectors
Hello everyone! This past week I headed out with Park Ranger Larisa Chavez to aid in an Ocean Connectors field trip. While most people think of park rangers as law enforcement who patrol the parks, that is not the case for the SDNWR. Larisa is an interpretive park ranger, so she gets to interact with the public and do a lot of visitor services, like lead these cool field trips with Ocean Connectors. It also takes a good amount of prep, so it’s fun to help with the behind the scenes of a field trip and then actually get to participate in it.
So what is Ocean Connectors? It is an organization that aims to educate and connect underserved youth in Pacific coastal communities through the study of migratory marine life. They have a great team that I have been lucky enough to meet and work with on these field trips. The kids arrive to the Imperial Beach site, which overlooks the Otay River, and get to participate in a variety of activities. The day starts off with a weeding competition, where the kids hurriedly try to pull weeds as they race against each other to see who can have the biggest pile of at the end of the competition. Next, they move on to habitat restoration, where they dig holes, build berms, and plant native flora along the Bayside Biking and Birding Trail. At the other two stations, they get to rotate between the microscope table and bird watching. At the microscopes, the kids get to look at sand from around the globe, various rocks and minerals, shark teeth, and even a barb from the tail of a stingray!
And, finally, the bird watching station!!! That’s where I came in. First, I helped the kids set up the binoculars and learn how to use them. I had them focus on a sign far away and try to read it. It took a little adjusting, but everyone got the hang of it. Before we started birding, I gave them tips on how to spot a bird (which wasn’t too hard because the shorebirds were out in good numbers down by the river) and key things to look at like the bill, legs, and mantle.
Soon enough they were shouting out the characteristics of birds and there was a chorus of, “pink legs”, “orange head”, and “gray body” filling the air. The most exciting part was when they got to see a Caspian Tern put on a show and zip around and dive into the water right in front of us. Back at the table, I asked the kids to recall all the characteristics they saw and try to ID the bird from the bird guide. They were able to ID the Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets pretty easily, but when it came to the Willet and Western Sandpiper it got a little tricky! But, through process of elimination and looking at the birds through the binoculars for a second time, they were able to ID all the birds we saw. After we got done ID’ing, I helped all the kids name and draw their two favorite birds they saw. It was great being outdoors and helping kids learn how to identify birds, and hopefully I helped to inspire some future EFTA interns and birders alike. See everyone next week!