Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Morning Bird Walk

It was a gorgeous morning for a bird walk today. This was the first time I was a co-leader on one of these hikes and it was a lot of fun. The group was small -- only 6 of us total (4 adults and 2 junior birders).

As we headed down one of the paths into the woods, Bill (our other leader) spotted this cool deer skull laying on the ground.

I brought my iPod with the BirdJam and that proved to be pretty popular with junior birder Jay. A little farther into our walk he asked me if he could look at my iPod again after admitting to me that he "sometimes gets kinda bored on these walks." He had a good time playing the games. (I didn't even know there were games on this iPod!) Here brother Mikey wants his turn too.

It wasn't a really birdy day, although we did spot a few migrating warblers, a couple red-eyed vireos, and the usual goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, bluejays, and cardinals. The thing I was most excited about was when we spotted this tiny baby snapping turtle on the walking path. Isn't it cute?? We let Jay pick it up and move it to the edge of the pond.

We also spotted these 2 turtles sunbathing on a log in the pond.

So let me share my impression of this bird walk with you and then ask you a couple questions. Our local Audubon chapter has these bird walks the first Saturday of every month and everyone is invited. On the few I've been on, it's generally a good mix of people and birding skills and people are encouraged to bring children along, although the kids generally don't get a lot out of them. On this walk, Mikey was probably a little too young, but both of the boys were well-behaved and listened to their mom. They did sometimes run ahead and get excited (with loud verbal exclamations) when they saw a squirrel or chipmunk run across the path. Naturally this would scare the birds, but the one other adult woman in the group kept telling them to be quiet and not run because it would scare the birds. I was a little put off by this and I can't imagine what Mikey and Jay's mom must have thought. I didn't quite know what to make of the situation, but I didn't say anything.

Now what do you think? If you were going on a bird hike but found out there would be kids, would that change your mind about going? If you knew it was a bird hike advertised for the general public and birders of all skill levels were welcome, would it make a difference to you if you knew really novice birders would be participating? And that some people would be lagging behind and that we weren't out there trying specifically to get some new lifers for some hardcore birders in the group?

As a participant (not a leader) on these walks previously, I come expecting to see some birds and just spend a couple hours outside watching birds. The majority of the participants have been less experienced birders than I am, so I'm always happy to see some people who want to increase their birding and nature knowledge. If I wanted to do some hardcore birding, I know it usually can't be done with a group like this and would find an alternate birding event for the more intense birding experience.

I'm just thinking that the other lady in our group seemed somewhat annoyed by having the kids along. Maybe she just doesn't like kids or whatever. I know kids running and yelling would scare birds, but heck, you're outside and there's this nice path to run on, so what's the harm? I think even if the kids spent at least 10 minutes looking through their binoculars and seeing a bluejay or a squirrel, that's hopefully going to be a little thing that sticks in their mind and arouses their curiosity enough to make them want to come along for a future trip. I seem to remember when I was a youngster my mom dragging us kids outside for hikes, and sometimes yeah, it was "kinda boring" but I don't think any of us would have the interest in nature that we have today if Mom had just let us sit at home and watch TV all day.

Anyhoo, I guess I'm kinda rambling here, but I'm glad Mikey and Jay's mom brought them along this morning and I hope we'll get a chance to see them on future Saturday morning bird walks.


Mel said...

¡Hola Ruthie!
I agree with you, naturalist have to start somewhere and somehow! The younger the better, and kids are kids, no matter how well behaved they are, they will always get curious and excited... If we make it a boring experience making them be quiet ALL the time, they will turn out hating it!
If it is a public invitation I would expect it, wouldn't love it, but I would have to endure it.
If you want to find lifers and eliminate the learning bit of the experience, then go solo or with other adult birders.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks for your input Mel. I'm betting that most of the other comments will be similar to yours.
Having no kids of my own and not being around kids very much, most anyone in my family would tell you that I'm generally not very tolerant of kids. But these 2 little guys were well-behaved and no matter what, I just don't think it's right for someone who's not the parent to "shush" the kids--especially in a public group like this. (the other lady wasn't one of the group leaders, just another participant)

Penelope said...

As the mother of three (the youngest still in elementary school), I think it's great when parents expose kids to nature. That being said, it's a balancing act when taking them on a group outing that is not specifically geared toward children, and I think parents should use judgment about the appropriateness of the outing for the kids' ages and attention spans. I don't think the kids should be shushed every time they are loud, but I think the parents should brief them on appropriate behavior. It would also be fine for the group leader to take a minute or two at the start, or perhaps if needed as the walk proceeds, to talk about good nature-watching behavior that won't scare the birds and animals and will help everyone be more likely to see interesting things. And if neither the parent or the group leader was trying to give any kind of guidance to unruly kids, I think it would be okay for another participant to say something to the kids, hopefully not in a mean way.

Mama Pea said...

I don't think the two little boys were in the wrong group; I think the unhappy lady was.

As you say, these little guys were well behaved and only being children experiencing the out-of-doors. You hit it right on the head when you said if we don't expose kids to things such as nature hikes, how are they ever going to become interested.

Maybe Grouchy Lady forgot to take her digestive enzymes this morning, or had sore feet, or her pants were too tight. By the description of the walk/hike, she should not have expected it to be different than it was.

Anonymous said...

If you don't take kids when they are young when will you take them. Instructions are given before you leave home [and they better listen]. Kids look at these things from a different perspective and closeness to the earth, snakes, bugs, chipmunks, etc. It was a open invitation to all ages and if I didn't like kids in the audience I would have left. The thing is they were to see and learn about nature. I'm glad when my kids were young they went when they didn't want too, and by golly they had fun anyway, and saw things I might have missed. We all see different things and look at what someone else sees, what fun. It was called a nature hike wasn't it? I still like being out in nature, hearing and seeing and enjoying.


Birdsong said...

I agree with Mama Pea! I used to take my kids on such events and almost everyone was very nice to us... and the kids grew up to be outdoor enthusiasts, even though they still ask me the names of the birds and flowers (but then so does my forest ranger hubby!). If you are now stepping into a leadership role, and people are calling you in advance, you have the opportunity to screen them a bit and let them know in advance that these are family-friendly outings geared towards novices and beginners so they can self-select to avoid coming in contact with children if that will bother them. I love how eager and curious children are about everything in the natural world, though I am sure your turtles were the biggest hit with those two boys (or, maybe your Ipod)... BTW, I came upon your site through Martie of the sunflowers and am so glad.

Gaelyn said...

I love the idea of nature walks which include young and old. Yet I suppose if it's Adubon it would be advertised birds. Maybe snooty lady didn't get it. Like being in a beautiful place and introducing the kids to nature in general, and maybe a few birds too. The turtles are cool and provide an interpretive moment. If people don't get out in nature they won't care about it. Gotta' start somewhere, and youth is great.

I understand how hard it can for kids to walk quietly in the woods. When I lead a nature walk there's only one portion I will ask everyone to walk softly so we might see the elusive Kaibab "Ghost" squirrel.

Maybe some activity would help. Check out Project Wild. Telling stories keeps everyone's attention.

The leader should explain to everybody how to watch wildlife, and it can almost be a game.

Being a naturalist includes learning to read people, as we all have different needs, sort of like learning styles. Any moment can provide a opportunity.

Sorry, now I'm rambling. It's been a long day.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I think it is wonderful that those children were with you. If a person wants total quiet for concentration they should go alone. Gosh they talk about children needing to be in touch with nature getting away from tv etc. I think this venue is perfect for children.

Now, If I was paying for a trip in a place I could never go back to and children were set loose to run,yell, climb trees etc I would have a different opinion. I would hope you would leave them at home.

Jayne said...

I think, like others have mentioned, that if it's advertised as a public event, open to families, people should not expect it will be a silent walk in the woods. Annoyed lady expected it to be something else, and was running out of patience. I think it's certainly good to get them curious early!

Deb said...

You should be glad I wasn't Mikey and Jay's mom when some other adult tried to tell them how to behave! As you know I'm pretty mild mannered, and I do my best to let my kids know what behavior is appropriate, and to make it obvious to others that I am mindful of their actions, but I can be a mama bear sometimes!

Debbie said...

Ruthie, I think if the hikes are advertised as open to all and all skill levels that this woman had expectations that were unreasonable.

As a mother with five children some small, I would love the opportunity to get out and talk with other birders and be able to bring my children along as often that is the only way I can do it. I'm sure this hike blessed this mom by being able to get out, do some birding and have her boys along.

And how are we to teach our children about nature and wildlife if we don't take them along...and frankly, it is pretty hard to expect little ones to walk and be quiet...especially outside.

troutbirder said...

I'm with most of the comments here. There isn't anything much more important that teaching our children to understand, love, and protect our natural world. Period.

Anonymous said...

If little brother could have stayed home with Dad, it might have been a special time for Mom and Older Brother. I'll bet Mom would have figured that out herself though--I don't think she'd have taken two active little boys on a hike if she had other options. I'm sure she had some totin' to do with Little Brother. No doubt he got something out of it; I hope it was enough to counteract the negativity from Groucho. (I'm with Deb on reaction to her.)

Of course had I been along, the boys' noise would have been a moot point because I'd probably have screamed at the snapping turtle and scared all birds within five miles away. (Any snakes? )

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Penny. The bird walks are actually not restricted to any age group. I think because Bill and I don't lead them regularly, things were a little less organized than when Joyce and Terry are the leaders. The kids weren't unruly, just excited and they did calm down farther into the walk.

Hi Mama Pea,
I did get a chance on Sunday to talk with Joyce (who usually leads these walks). She said sometimes when they have more experienced birders, one of the leaders will go ahead with those birders and the other one will stay back with kids and/or people who aren't as experienced. Hopefully next time I help lead a walk, I'll know how to handle things better.

Hi Mom,
I think usually when we went on the organized tours, we were the group bringing up the rear weren't we? There was always so much to see.

Hi Birdsong,
Welcome to my blog (and THANKS for the Etsy order too!)
I did have a chance to visit with Joyce (who usually leads these walks) and she gave me some advice on how to handle something like this for future walks that I lead. The Audubon club doesn't want to discourage anyone from attending by limiting the ages, so I just need more experience of how to work with all ages.

Thanks Gaelyn,
I was hoping you'd share a comment and some advice for me since you deal with this almost every day! I think it's good to share the knowledge of "nature" things too--especially when the birds are difficult to see.

Hi Lisa,
I was glad the kids came along too. These walks are always held at Quarry Hill Nature Center and there are always plenty of kids activities going on around there, so the birds and wildlife are used to kid sounds anyway. The walks are free and open to all ages and I think maybe some people who attend maybe don't think that people would come with little kids.
Our Audubuon club also has birding field trips for adults, but the attendance is usually minimal for those (only 6 of us on the last one I attended).

Hi Jayne,
I'm with you -- it's good to get the kids interested in nature, even if it's only for a half-hour or so. On previous walks, I know some of the parents with little kids left the group after a short time (when the kids started losing interest). Maybe next time I lead a group I'll mention that we'll be out birding for at least an hour and people can feel free to leave at any time if they want to.

Hi Deb,
I understand what you're saying and I felt the same way too--even when I wasn't the mom! I was really taken aback the first time she told them to be quiet--I really didn't know what to do and I don't think Bill did either.

Hi Debbie,
I know your kids are well-behaved too and I can imagine your little guy getting excited about seeing a turtle or some ducks too. Mikey and Jay's mom had good control over the boys and they weren't being naughty at all. I think she enjoyed having the chance to bring them on the bird hike with us.

Thanks Troutbirder.

Hi Mary Lee,
I found out on the way to the parking lot that dad lived in Idaho, so unfortunately that wasn't an option.....
And yeah, in the first photo of this post, there's Mikey on his mom's shoulders--those little legs get tired pretty fast. (no snakes either!)

Julie said...

Hi Ruthie! I have a bird song for you to identify! I think it will be an easy one. I'll try and post it soon.
I love the little snapping turtle. They're cute at that age, not so much when they get bigger.
I can't stand those who correct other people's children, but in all honestly, I hate more parents who don't discipline their own children. I see that more and more often now. But in this instance I don't think the kids were doing wrong. I wonder if activity sheets (coloring sheets, birding/plant bingo) could be provided to children during these walks. Or a bird life list. Never too young to get them started.
If I found it bothersome, I'd remember the route we took and I'd take it another day when there wasn't ascheduled walk in that area.

Julie said...

Another idea is to offer family birding days. Maybe not as often as once a month, but every few months. Include check lists for things including birds, nests, foods that birds may eat, etc. And close with an activity such as pinecones, rolling in peanut butter than seed, wrap in a baggie and let the kids take them home and hang on a tree in their yard. Another time you can talk about the importance of water and talk about different water containers (they don't all have to be expensive bird baths).

I don't know that the organization wants to get that involved though.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Julie,
Thanks for your suggestions. I think they are some good ones. I know definitely the next time I lead a walk, I'll have some little bags along to give to the kids for their "collectables" (acorns, rocks, seeds, etc.)

dAwN said...

All great comments here! and you were right on Ruthie..that woman should have chilled...she was on a hike for all types of birders.
You can learn from them all..even little ones.
Nice post!