Saturday, December 7, 2013

BHEA Students and Parents Discover Birds

On November 21st, the The Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (KTOS) and the Discover Birds Program hosted 33 students and their parent-teachers from the Blount Home Education Association at Ijams Nature Center for a great afternoon of discovering birds!
The event started with a bird slide show presentation by KTOS President, Billie Cantwell, introducing students to the variety of birds they can find in Tennessee, including some of their nests and eggs.
Paula Schneeberger, above, shows the students "bird treasures" and passes many items around to students for a closer look. Above, Paula holds a display of owl pellets and points out one that contains a complete tiny bird skull for the students to notice. Other items include bird eggs, nests, talons and feathers.  

Below, a student compares the talons of a Harpy Eagle and a Golden Eagle.  
After the indoor program and a break, everyone gathered at the Ijam's outside pavillion to enjoy a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk exhibited by senior naturalist and author, Stephen Lyn Bales.  

Red-tailed hawks live in Tennessee year-round and many hawks from northern areas come south to Tennessee to spend the winter.  They hunt mice, voles and other small mammals by perching in an open area to find them with their keen eyesight.  We often see them perched on posts and tree limbs along the side of roads and fields.  
The hawk and its interesting story inspired lots of questions.  
Next, the students had the opportunity to look at birds through the birding telescopes, also called birding "scopes".  
A pair of Mourning Doves found perched on tree limbs at the edge of the field became the first birds they viewed and the birds remained still for everyone to get good looks.  
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Mourning Doves (below) are named for their soft song that is often considered a sad or mournful song. They are ground feeding birds and will sometimes come to feeders and eat the seeds dropped on the ground or visit the bird bath for a drink.

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

Below, Oliver Lang, Discover Birds volunteer, shows students the field guide he carries to help him identify birds.

After viewing the birds near the pavillion, the group divided into three smaller groups for bird walks.  Each group took a different trail and spotted birds to view with the scope, giving them an opportunity to enjoy the different kinds of birds found on the many acres at Ijams Nature Park.
Below, Kelly Sturner, Discover Birds volunteer, talks with students about birds and how to find them.

Quiet voices and keeping your eyes alert for movement are some of the best ways to find birds.

Chris Welsh, below, takes his group on a wooded hike along the River Walk Trail.  

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell

Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

Above, a wintering Hermit Thrush was one of the great finds on their bird walk.  Be sure to click the link and listen to this bird's beautiful song
Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

Photo credit Stephanie Bowling

Each of the participating students received a Discover Birds Activity book to help continue their excitement and learning about birds.  

For more information about the Discover Birds Program contact Billie Cantwell at
To order printed activity books, contact Cyndi Routledge at 
To download and print the activity book, visit:  The Tennessee Ornithological Society-Educational Resources page.

Links and Resources:

Discover Birds Program
Discover Birds Activity Book
Hermit Thrush
Mourning Dove
Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (KTOS)
KTOS on Facebook
Tennessee Ornithological Society
Blount Home Education Association
Stephen Lyn Bales
Ijams Nature Center
Tennessee Birds 
Tennessee Watchable Wildlife--Birds
Cornell's All About Birds--ID birds and their songs

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Discover Birds Activity Book Now Available Online

The Discover Birds Activity Book is now available as a free download on a new page featured on the Tennessee Ornithological Society’s (TOS) website.  A new "education" link in the sidebar of the home page takes you to the educational resources page that gives information about the Discover Birds Program and makes the entire activity book available to download or print.

With this free online availability, we hope to encourage more children to get out doors and discover birds!

The links provided enable the printing of the entire book or the selection of individual activities and topics in the individual pages section.  The individual page listing provides the opportunity to select the activity that best suits age level and educational needs.
The activity book is also available on the Tennessee 
Watchable Wildlife Website.  Special appreciation goes to Scott Somershoe for giving the book this additional availability.  Additionally, NIMBioS (National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis) has published two of the book's activities on their website as educational modules.  We thank Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS Education and Outreach Coordinator, and Chris Welsh, NIMBioS Deputy Director, for giving the book this worldwide visibility to science and math communities.

Printed books are available by contacting Cyndi Routledge at

Individuals interested in more information about the Discover Birds Program, arranging school or group visits in your area, or volunteering with the program should contact Billie Cantwell at

Watch for our Discover Birds article in the upcoming Jan/Feb 2014 issue of the Tennessee Conservationist Magazine.  The article features TOS, the Discover Birds Activity Book and the Discover Birds Program!

Links and Resources:
Tennessee Ornithological Society Educational Resources
NIMBioS Discover Birds Educational Module
Tennessee Watchable Wildlife Educational Tools

Monday, November 11, 2013

Discover Birds Hosts Pack 73 Webelos Den at Cove Lake State Park

Members of the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and Discover Birds volunteers enjoyed the company of ten members of the Webelos Den Pack 73 in Norris, Tennessee, and leaders and parents, on our birding field trip to Cove Lake State Park in Caryville, Tennessee, November 9th.  
Above, Tom Howe, our field trip leader and Discover Birds volunteer, passes out binoculars to those who don't have them and gives a quick lesson to the pack members about how to find birds with their binoculars. "Keep your eyes on the bird and raise your binoculars up to your eyes," he suggests.  This helps prevent losing the bird because you've looked away.
Everybody got a chance to use this information right away to view the flock of Cedar Waxwings perched in the tops of the tree limbs in the parking lot.
A Cedar Waxwing is a brown sleek bird with a black mask on its face, a wash of yellow on its belly and bright yellow tail tips. They have waxy red tips on their secondary wing feathers, the blunt feathers on the wing that are closer to the body.
Tom points out the Cedar Waxwings and everybody gets practise getting a bird into view with their binoculars. Through binoculars the bird is magnified as though it is closer and you can see more details than if you were only looking with your eyes. 

Above and below, you can see the yellowish belly and the yellow tail tips of the Cedar Waxwing. You can also see those red wing tips on the image below (taken in my back yard several years ago). This Cedar Waxwing was eating holly berries. Cedar Waxwings love berries!
More Cedar Waxwings flew in and gathered on the cedar tree next to the parking lot to feed on the blue cedar berries.
From the parking lot we walked across a mowed lawn to an area where grasses grew high and were mixed with shrubs, like black berries.  This is a favorite habitat or place to feed and hide for small birds that eat seeds, like sparrows and finches.
Below, Tom (center) talks about the kinds of birds you would expect to see in this area and their behavior. Sparrows are small brownish birds and are sometimes hard to find because they are well camoflaged and like to hide down in the grass. Their favorite food is seeds that are produced by grasses and flowers.    
We have to be quiet and still to watch for birds to move. Pretty soon we see some but they are very quick. Tom walks around the other side of the grassy area to flush the birds, hoping they will move closer to where we can see them. The birds moved, but instead of coming our way, they just dropped down and hid in the grass just below Tom where he couldn't see them!
A Field Sparrow perched high enough for us to get a quick look.  This is a small brownish bird with a pale grayish breast and pink bill that lives in Tennessee year around.
You can see the Field Sparrow's pink bill and white eye ring in the photo above.  All those dry flower heads are full of tiny seeds that sparrows like to eat.
Tom and a pack member look for birds in the field, especially an American Woodcock that we flushed when we approached. Woodcocks are similiar to shorebirds except that they live in wet forests and wet grassy areas and probe the mud with their bills.
American Woodcock        Photo credit:  Mike Nelson                   

The picture of the woodcock above was taken in the spring.  All those spots and streaks of brown and gray on his back and head camoflage him, making him blend right into the forest floor or this brown, wet grassy area where we found him at Cove Lake.  
We came across another shrubby, grassy area and watched for sparrows and finches.   Jerry Ledbetter tries to get his scope on one of the birds, above.  There was lots of movement in the grasses.  The birds we saw and heard the most here were Song Sparrows that were jumping around and chasing each other.  They are brownish with a streaked breast.  Click the Song Sparrow link and listen to their song. We can sometimes hear these birds singing in our backyards.
A Song Sparrow, above.
KTOS member Jerry Ledbetter, above, watches for a bird to get in his birding telescope. When he gets it in focus, everybody has to take a quick look before the bird moves.  Some birds will sit still longer than others.

Webelos compare bird field guides and the birds they have seen, above and below.
What a fun morning!  Pack 73 received Discover Birds Activity Books donated by KTOS for all the members of the pack.
Pack 73, Webelos Den, Norris, Tennessee.  A great group of birders!  Back row, left to right:  Eric Williams, assistant pack leader; Tom Howe, KTOS field trip leader and Discover Birds volunteer; and Frits Haverkamp, Pack 73 leader.

Links and resources:

Discover Birds
KTOS (Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society)
KTOS on Facebook
Tennessee Ornithological Society
Cove Lake State Park
Cedar Waxwings
Field Sparrow
American Woodcock
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