Saturday, October 18, 2014

Discovering Birds with Blount County Home Education Association!

In the midst of a long string of gray, rainy days, the Discover Birds Program and Blount County Home Education Association had a beautiful, sunny day on October 17 at Ijams Nature Center!
Approximately 46 children and parent-teachers, for a total of 66, enjoyed the program lead by volunteers from the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (KTOS).
Before beginning their bird walks, students were given binoculars and Tom Howe (above) explains how to "get your binoculars on a bird".  The secret--keep your eyes on the bird and raise your binoculars to your eyes.
Students practiced adjusting the focus of the binoculars and looking at stationary objects before trying to focus on a bird that likely will be moving.

The large group was divided into three sections, with each group rotating through the three parts of the program:  a slide-show presentation about birds, a "show-and-tell" treasure chest with bird related items for close-up viewing and discussion, and a guided bird walk using binoculars and a scope.
Doug Schneeberger, above, talks with students about bird beaks and how these beaks tell us about the birds behavior and food sources.

Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

The first bird walk group was divided into two groups, one walking in an open area with wooded edges, the other heading for a trail in the woods.  Each habitat offers an opportunity to see and hear different birds.
Throughout the wooded walk, we heard Carolina Wrens, the bird that sings "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle" and likes to hang around our homes and gardens.  They build multiple nests, sometimes in mailboxes and old shoes!  We heard call notes, scolding and their songs as wrens answered territorial songs and warned of the group's presence.
We couldn't see the wrens because they are so small and well camouflaged.  Birding-by-ear is another fun way to discover birds as you walk!

Above, binoculars are aimed at a Cape May Warbler that landed close.  While watching a Carolina Chickadee forage on a tree trunk, the group also spotted a nest of curious baby squirrels.

While the above group was on their bird walk, another group enjoyed the bird slide show.  Below, Billie Cantwell talks with students while waiting for everyone to get seated.

The slides show birds of all sizes and shapes with many different kinds of beaks and feet.  Everyone was familiar with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  In response to a student's observation, Billie explains a way to help a trapped hummingbird find its way out of a building.
Hummingbirds must have nectar to sustain their high energy and will quickly become exhausted if trapped.  Billie suggested opening the door to the building or garage and setting a table with a nectar feeder near the opening.  Hummingbirds natural fly upward when trapped and can't find the exit. The hummingbird will be attracted to the nectar near the outdoors and find its way out.
A group of young students listen to Doug during their show-and-tell session.
Above and below, the children feel the weight of a nest made with sticks and mud.

Finding birds in the afternoon, on a sunny and windy day is not easy.  Birds are often quiet and resting after a busy morning of feeding.  The group watched a Blue Jay fly from one wooded edge to another and then got a special treat.  Three immature bald eagles glided overhead.
Everyone tried to get the eagles into their binoculars--not easy when a bird is in flight.
Below, Chris shows students the light and dark patterns and "feather fingers" that help in identifying a bald eagle in flight.
Photo credit:  Stephanie Bowling

Soon after the eagles flew by, a Red-tailed Hawk was spotted.  Everyone was excited about seeing these large soaring birds that were catching thermals or the warm, rising air currents that enable them to soar without flapping their wings.
A group of students, below, discuss what makes birds special and different from other animals.  
Doug challenges their thinking with questions about what muscle groups enable birds to flap their wings.

A large sternum and well-developed breast muscles help give birds their strength in flight.
Students listen to the sound of a feather...

and examine a bird's nest, below.
A student below, examines the contents of an owl pellet.
Doug asks, "from which end does the bird expel the pellet?" Eyes brighten and one student answers, "the bottom end", but that isn't correct.  Pellets are expelled through the mouth as regurgitated balls of undigestible prey parts.  Below, owl pellets are shown with undigested prey skulls, bones and hair,
Each group of students received a special presentation from Sammi Stoklosa and met a non-releaseable Eastern Screech Owl that lives at Ijams Nature Center.
The owl was hit by a car and lost one eye.  Sammi explained that this often happens because people throw food out of their cars which attracts mice or other rodents.  The owl is attracted to the prey as a food source.
Owls are night hunters and rely heavily on their hearing.  They also have specially adapted flight feathers that are silent in flight.
Eastern Screech Owl
Above, Billie Cantwell distributes Discover Birds Activity Books.  Each student received a complimentary activity book from KTOS and the Discover Birds Program.

A special thank you to Ijams Nature Center for allowing us to use their educational trails and facility. And a big thanks to the Blount Home Education Association and Billie Cantwell for arranging this program.  A special thanks also to KTOS Discover Birds volunteers:  Doug Schneeberger, Chris Welsh, Tom Howe, Tony King, Sammi Stoklosa, Susie Kaplar, Robin Barrow, Billie Cantwell and Vickie Henderson.  

KTOS--Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society
KTOS on Facebook
Discover Birds Program
Discover Birds Activity Book
Discover Birds Curriculum Guide
Discover Birds in the Tennessee Conservationist
eBird at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Tennessee Birds
Tennessee Watchable Wildlife--Birds
Cornell's free beginning birding app--Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Audubon Mobile Field Guides
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