I Spy... Birds!

Written by Kara Baldwin
    Friday, 17 May 2013
I Spy... Birds!

On the first day of “I Spy…Birds!” Camp, the campers arrived excited for a fun week of camp. Some were thrilled about the prospect of spending a whole week learning about and searching for birds.  Others were just excited to be at the Urban Ecology Center.  And some were skeptical and needed some convincing that birds were worthy of being studied for a whole week of their summer.  The skepticism was short-lived, however, as they received their binoculars and started paging through their new bird field guides (which were theirs to keep, thanks to funding from the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology and discounted binoculars through Eagle Optics.)

Before heading out to go bird watching with the new binoculars, they thought about the characteristics of birds, and experimented with the strength of hollow bones. The campers’ eyes grew wide as multiple volumes of an encyclopedia were stacked upon “bird bones,” represented by three tubes made of rolled up printer paper.

“Do you think we could add more?” Tim Vargo, Manager of Research and Community Science for Urban Ecology Center, asked as the number of heavy books reached 15.

“YES!” the campers yelled.

“How many?” asked Tim.

“The whole set!” The campers were excited to watch the books finally fall at volume “V”, four short of the whole collection!

Then the students started to bird watch. They continually looked for their favorite bird, the brown creeper, whom the campers lovingly nicknamed the “poofy bird”. When a brown creeper came into view, the campers’ exuberance scared it away. They also saw nuthatches, woodpeckers, blackbirds, and many other beautiful birds that hot June day.

The next day, we traveled to the shores of Lake Michigan at Veterans Park. With a set of binoculars and a few bird books, we practiced bird watching and found gulls, terns, ducks, and geese.
After practicing bird watching for two days, it was time to split into groups and compete in a birding challenge. The kids went into Riverside Park to look for birds. Each group was with an adult helper (Tim Vargo and I). We went out searching for birds, with our binoculars, bird books, and bird checklists in hand. A beautiful blue indigo bunting shining in the sun, a hummingbird nest with a long beak peeking out, and red-bellied woodpeckers popping out of their cavity were highlights. The students’ data was uploaded onto eBird, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s web based bird sighting software.

By day four, the campers were ready for a new activity. Canoeing! The campers explored the lagoon in Washington Park keeping a look-out for birds. Red-winged black birds, great blue herons, gulls, wood ducks with ducklings, and a green heron were found as the students practiced their canoeing skills, splashed, and laughed along the way.

Finally, we reached the last day of camp. It was an exhausting week, but it was full of fun and adventure. The final event was a visit to the Wisconsin Humane Society to meet Talon the Falcon and to learn about bird conservation. The students went home with a homemade birdfeeder, hopefully ready to put it outside their window and wait for their favorite feathered friends to stop by.

“I Spy…Birds” Camp was great! It was full of laughter, games, bird watching, snacks, and so much more. Plus, the campers were allowed to keep their binoculars and bird books, thanks to a grant from the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology! Join us this year for I Spy…Birds to gain great experiences and to be introduced to the wonderfully fun world of birds.

Kara Baldwin

Kara Baldwin

Kara Baldwin is a Minnesota native who, thanks to her parents, spent much of her summers experiencing camping trips across the country. These childhood experiences lead her to pursue biology education at South Dakota State University and eventually find her calling as an environmental educator. She has been a high school science teacher, park naturalist, and museum educator at locations across the country. She has finally settled in Milwaukee and enjoys her career at the Urban Ecology Center as an environmental educator. In addition to teaching kids, she loves training and competing in sprint triathlons, working in her garden, walking her dog, singing and playing bells at her church, volunteering with a running program, and camping at state and national parks.


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