Hello everyone! Welcome back to another awesome week in Newport! This week I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a bird walk for some students in the Eugene area. A couple weeks before, John Deluca had sent me an email about a school group that would visit the bird banding station he manages at West Kirk Park. In case you don’t remember, John Deluca had reached out to me months ago to offer his help by conducting bird walks at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area for World Migratory Bird Day. His presentations for Birding 101 and teaching newcomers to the world of birding, how to spot and identify birds, as well as using binoculars properly have been a great help for us. I was more than happy to oblige, as an extension of our gratitude for helping us with our WMBD event!
On top of a guideline for “birding 101”, John had prepared for me a map of the area where I could conduct bird walk as well as a list of all species of birds that have been banded in the area to help me get a good idea of what to expect. I had experience of birding and bird banding under my belt, which could’ve listed me a good candidate to help out John at his station. Regardless of the experience, I had some small doubts if I was truly qualified for the task, mostly because some birds of Oregon are still new to me. I voiced my concern to John, and he suggested that I arrived early in the morning to survey the area; that way, I was comfortable knowing which birds were expected to be at the park. In addition to the banding list, I did a bit of research through ebird to look over which species of birds people have observed during the month of July. Thus, on July 19th, I left Hatfield Marine Science Center at 4 o’clock in the morning to arrive at Eugene around 5:30am.
Upon arrival, I immediately set out to survey West Kirk Park for the birds and enter them on my ebird list. The students wouldn’t arrive until 9:40 am, so I had plenty of time beforehand to prepare. During my walk around the park, I realized that I didn’t have to worry at all! The early morning brought a wonderful orchestra of bird songs for me to recognize, and a good number of birds that were easy for me to identify. I’d see a variety of swallows near the pond, some Turkey vultures in the distance, the occasional osprey flying overhead, chirping Black-capped chickadees and some inquisitive American robins. At a quick glance, I could also spot a Great blue heron, a Bewick’s wren, a California scrub-jay and a Stellar’s jay. Being in Oregon for a couple months now, I’ve recognized the uprising call of a Swainson’s thrush, even though they are hidden well within the dense foliage. After becoming comfortable with the birds of the area, I prepared myself with the guideline for the bird walk. I’d first guide them on how to properly use binoculars, and then go into depth of some common bird species and families we see on a daily basis, such as crows, sparrows, gulls, etc. These birds set a comparison benchmark for the birds we do not recognize at all. For example, if I were to see a turkey vulture in the distance, I’d say “it looks dark like a crow, but its significantly bigger than one”. I also covered several elements that would help us describe a bird we see in particular, such as its posture, silhouette, shades, markings, proportions, and behavior! When 9:40 am came around, I felt ready to lead a bird walk for a middle school group of 20-25 students!
The group we received at the parking lot, however, was a group of 12 students in their late elementary school years, coming from an institution that specialized in teaching students with mental disabilities. This was not an issue for me, as I have experience being with students of all ages and backgrounds. The only issue I’ve come to realize within the first 5 minutes, was that the material I’ve prepared was too advanced for the group I was leading. Their attention wasn’t exactly focused on the themes of identification and families of birds; they simply wanted to see birds! That’s the important thing about birding: you may not recognize some birds immediately, but there’s an appreciation gained simply from watching them. I crunched down the lesson to focusing on using the binoculars appropriately and then talking about the birds we spot.
John later asked me for any feedback or suggestions for future reference whenever he has a group come by the banding station. I suggested that there would be different Standards of Procedures for various levels of age or grade, as we have at YHONA for our tide pool education classes. Regardless of the surprise, I had a wonderful time leading the walk and birding in a new area! One certainly learns more from teaching others, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to practice a skill I hope I can utilize in the future!