Monday, February 8, 2010

When the Birding Gets Slow

Monday, February 8, 2010

Phoebe and I made a bunch of appearances at middle schools in north Brevard County near Titusville as part of the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. We were trying to encourage some of the students—all near Phoebe's age—to consider birding as a fun, cool thing to do. We gave a half-dozen talks and lead a half-dozen walks. And I believe we made a few new birders.

The talks all went really well (I am so proud of the Phoebster for taking to public speaking so easily) and so did most of the walks. After all, it's hard not to see lots of birds in January in Florida. But it happens...

One of the schools we visited had a fairly bad bird walk due to an almost complete lack of birds. Oh sure we had some distant pepper specks int he sky (vultures) and some flyover American robins plus a few returning purple martins, but other than that we struck out. And I gotta tell you that I can keep any group of kids interested and under control as long as there are birds to show them. Preferably perched birds that we can get the spotting scope on. Even the rowdiest bully (of which we encountered none at the schools we visited) will go "Wow! That's AWEsome!" when shown a zoomed-in look at a northern mockingbird or any other species for that matter.
We scanned in all directions. Not even a single mocker was present!

But at this school it was the doldrums of the afternoon with an approaching storm and the birds were all taking a siesta. Consequently the kids were becoming restless. After all it was Friday afternoon and this was their last class of the week. One group of boys began showing off by reenacting scenes from a war movie or video game. Girls began gathering into small groups to chat about the boys. Only a few students stuck with Phoebe and me, asking questions about birds, the book, us. The teacher began to tire of trying to keep control. I sensed my grip on the class slipping away.

That's when Mother Nature stepped in to save us. Someone screamed "AHHHH! SNAKE!!" and we watched as a tiny brown snake with a pale orange and black pattern on its back slithered into the middle of a group of 8th graders.
I'm glad it was a small, calm snake. I would've hated to try to wrestle an excaped exotic boa constrictor.

The snake quickly realized it was surrounded, so it raced into the only dark hole it could find: inside the sole of a girl's tennis show. Lucky for the snake, which one young man shyly ID'd as a juvenile corn snake, the girl remained calm while we removed her shoe.

We all got a look at the snake curled up inside the open tread of the sole. The "Cool!" and "Sweet!" and "Awesome" comments drifted through the sultry afternoon air.
Phoebe was not so sure this was fun.

After everyone got a good look, I gently removed the snake and let it go in the grass.
Trying to coax the corn snake out of the shoe sole.

We strolled back to the school, retrieved the loaner binoculars (many heartfelt thanks for the bins to Eagle Optics and The Enchanted Forest), answered a few final questions, and said our goodbyes. Phoebe and I signed a copy of "The Young Birder's Guide" for the school's library, and hit the road. I'll bet that book gets checked out a few times this spring.

We'd seen fewer than five bird species on this bird walk, but, thanks to a snake in the grass, it was still a big success.


On February 8, 2010 at 6:38 AM Dave Lewis said...

Yo, snakes got soul!

On February 8, 2010 at 7:01 AM mkircus said...

At one inner city middle school, in Houston, TX, I had an outdoor club. I got a small grant and bought enough binoculars that two kids could share them. Then we went to a state park inside Houston city limits and went fishing, and went on a bird walk. The walk ended up taking over two hours to walk less than a mile.

One child wrote me a thank you letter and said, "You have set my eyes on birds." That was probabaly the nicest think anyone has told me.

I wish we had an adopt a future birder day or some other means of reminding ourselves to keep finding children to take birding.

On February 8, 2010 at 10:21 AM KaHolly said...

I'm loving it!! I'm all about trying to connect children with nature. And don't I just love seeing a parcel of young "geeky birders" all lined up with their nockies pointing skyward.

On February 8, 2010 at 12:11 PM Julie Zickefoose said...


I love this story, and I love seeing your Florida trip unfold here. I had a kinda so-so school woodswalk spectacularly rescued by a roosting red bat a couple of years ago. You can never hope for the little snakes or the sleepy bats, but somehow nature usually provides them. Very sweet.
And I know that look Phee is giving you.

On February 8, 2010 at 12:39 PM Cape May Wren said...

Saved by the snake! Or bat. (I remember that one, JZ! Glorious creature, it was.) Or bug. Or whatever... Oh, the lot of a naturalist. Finally, a practical use for knowing a little bit about a whole lotta things - backup (or bailout) plans!

Do you think that 8th grader will ever wear those shoes while walking in the grass again? *lol* Poor kid. At least it didn't try to go up anyone's pant leg...

Perhaps Phoebe has a right to that look when it comes to snakes? I'm all for picking up a docile snake myself, but then I was lucky enough to grow up in a place without poisonous ones on my very doorstep!

Precious pictures; thank you, BOTB!


On February 8, 2010 at 5:45 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Such nice comments! Thanks everyone!

On February 8, 2010 at 8:15 PM Anne said...

The comment by mkircus reminds me of the very nice thoughts Al Batt (Midwest Birding Symposium) had when he talked about his experiences with school kids and taking them out to watch birds.

Even with my limited skills, I had the opportunity to "set someone's eyes on birds" ( a third grader) last spring, and it was REALLY fun.

On February 9, 2010 at 7:57 PM cindyzlogic said...

Yes...I just have to say it...this was an AWESOME post! What a neat thing to do, getting young people involved in the wonders of nature!

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