Sunday, December 23, 2012

St. Joseph County Christmas Bird Count for Kids

Saturday morning I took my oldest son to the St. Joseph County Christmas Bird Count for Kids. I did some bird watching in college for a class and have done some here or there along the way, but really am rather new to the hobby/sport/science (I'd say it's all three!). While many of the parents left their children there for the program, I stayed with my son so I could learn from the experience as well. We recently put a feeder out and are starting to see more birds. This was a good time to dedicate more time to learning all their names, as I haven't known what all was visiting our feeder.

Some of the children were already quite knowledgeable on the topic and had attended other bird counts. One boy had his own adventure pack filled with bird identification tools. He said he often goes birding in the woods with his grandmother. I thought about the need for children to have mentors as they learn more and more about nature. Having a concerned adult that is willing to learn with the child goes a long way. 

My son was trying out binoculars. They keep these feeders stocked all year long. We used a sheet to record how many birds we saw overall. We saw the black-capped chicakadee, dark-eyed junco, downy woodpecker, red-belleied woodpecker, song sparrow, tufted titmouse, and white breasted nuthatch. These all seemed like fairly common feeder birds for this time of year. We were surprised that we didn't see a cardinal!

Michaele Klingerman from St. Joseph County Parks led the children in the bird count. She was very knowledgeable and had great teaching skills for this type of activity and age. She even tolerated my questions that seemed rather silly as I thought about them later (yes, I know about bald-faced hornets--having a momentary lapse of reason). After about 45 minutes at the feeder, she explained how a bird count works, how to use binoculars, the history of counts, and other valuable information. 

We then hit the trails to see what we could find outside. We looked high, low, and all around. We were guided to check out the holes on the trees.

We saw two great blue herons by the water and a red-tailed hawk that was flying. To be honest, my son is used to exploring more in the woods than having a dedicated activity that sometimes needs quiet feet and voices. He was happiest climbing on things. He didn't seem too interested in the birds while we were at the bird count, but guess what he talked to me about all the way home? Yep, BIRDS! Sometimes, I push through activities that don't seem to initially catch his interest because I know he will be interested if exposed to the information. How else will he learn about it?

The kids also loved rolling down the inner tube hill. This will be great to visit when we get more snow! They also have snow shoeing and cross country skiing available. Snow, where are you?  

We ended with hot chocolate and cookies. I look forward to the bird count next year!

Are you a young birder or know someone who is? Check out Indiana Young Birders. They've been giving away bird guides all year!