[Tweeters] How (Not) to Lead a Cub Scout Birding 'Field Trip'

Renee Marth/ Bill Voss marthvoss at hotmail.com
Fri May 22 06:51:05 PDT 2009

Great story! It reminded me of when I was teaching an elective called Wildlife Science at a middle school in the Anchorage School District before I retired. Each spring I would try to take them out on birding walks into the woods surrounding the school when the Yellow-rumped Warblers returned. On one 45 minute jaunt I lost half of the class because they could not keep up. It took another period to find them. On another one, a young lady broke her arm horsing around. Talk about combat birding. Thanks for your work with the kids.
-Bill Voss, Port Townsend, WA

Date: Fri, 22 May 2009 06:20:16 +0000
From: johntubbs at comcast.net
To: tweeters at u.washington.edu
Subject: [Tweeters] How (Not) to Lead a Cub Scout Birding 'Field Trip'

Hi everyone,

While birding on a trail in our neighborhood, I met a young (relative to me, you know how that goes) couple that was interested in what I was doing and asked a bunch of questions. Turned out the gal's mom was in town visiting from California and was very interested in a field trip, though she was basically a complete beginner. Later that day, I just happened to be leading a late afternoon field trip at Marymoor for Eastside Audubon and suggested her mom attend that trip, which she did - and she had a great time. So much so that her daughter decided that a short field trip for her son's Cub Scout den would be the perfect thing to do, especially since they coincidentally had been studying birds as one of their activities this month. So, yours truly - the 'expert' that this family has serendipitously found - gets a call to lead the trip. I figure it would be a nice community service thing to do so I say sure.

Understand that despite being married for many years, Trisha and I never had kids. But we both like kids and so we figure, how hard can this be?

The arrangements are made for an evening walk at Three Forks Natural Area (off-leash dog park) and at the appointed time, the scouts with a smattering of parents in tow show up. Eight years old, plus or minus. The whole bell-shaped curve of 8 to 10 year olds - the kid who is twice as tall as most of the others and looks like he could pitch for a college team next week, and the tiny, shy kid that runs a risk of being carried off by a swallow who thinks he's a feather for the nest. And everything in between, coupled with those infamous short attention spans. But they're interested and we're ready to go.

Things start off well, as we arrived early and have located a partially-completed Bullock's Oriole nest that includes a big blue rubber band and some fishing line, focused in the scope. This is a very big hit, as is the Red-winged Blackbird that lands within fifteen feet of the group. Then, trying to use good teaching principles by engaging my attentive students, I ask if any of them have favorite birds. Hands shoot up in the air and we discuss a couple of birds. The last kid's favorite bird is a Killdeer. I ask him why. Answer - [Studious, serious look on his face] 'I don't know.' So I explain why the Killdeer is called what it's called, illustrating with my best rendition of the kill-DEEEEERR call of the bird. Baaaad idea, John. Have you ever tried to listen for warblers with a dozen Cub Scouts doing their best rendition of someone else's best rendition of a Killdeer call...?

Then we open the gate and head into the off-leash dog area to look for other birds in the surrounding trees and oxbow lakes. Inside the gate, I gather the group around me and explain a few things about how to find birds. Then comes my second miscalculation. I announce to the group that we're ready to go and give an enthusiastic, "Let's go find some birds!" Of course, I expect the group will all follow me and look for birds. Nope, that would be the adult reaction. The kids took me quite literally, all yelled in delight and exploded at full running speed in every direction of the compass, while racheting up the decibel level to just slightly under jet engine volume. They WERE looking for birds, or their interpretation thereof. The first mom to notice this looked rather chagrined and asked another mom - 'Why are they running in the field?!?' Whereupon mom number two pointed to me and related what I said and started laughing. The first mom responded, 'Oh, he'll learn.' So we enlisted the help of a dog walker with two Border Collies and a half hour later had all the scouts safely corralled back at the starting point (ok, so the dogs and the time frame are embellished a bit but you get the picture). Then the moms took charge and lined them up single file and off we marched to find a few more birds. T

he river otter that we found in the oxbow lake was more of a hit than any of the birds we saw - except maybe the Osprey flying over with a freshly-caught fish - but fun was had by all. Except maybe the younger brother of one of the scouts who came along with his mom and desperately wants to see birds through my scope. I grab junior under the armpits and raise him up to scope level. OK, son, look through this glass with one eye and close the other one. He dutifully closes the eye that is 'looking' through the scope. His mom and I explain again and we try the other eye - with the same result. Wrong eye closed. 'Mommy, I can't see anything!' We finally get him to coordinate eyes and he sees a Cedar Waxwing. We think.

By this time, the relatively late hour and losing the youthful attention spans dictated a return to the starting point, and no one figured that single file columns were worth trying to organize. The boys took this as an opportunity to rip and tear through the tall grass, which came up to the armpits on the smaller kids. Then one enterprising young man said, 'Look, I can disappear!' and dove into the grass and belly-flopped onto the ground. Whereupon all of them started doing the same thing. Now remember, we're in a * off-leash dog park * - with tall grass, which does a good job of hiding...well, some people refer to them as 'organic land mines'. The moms to this point appeared to be very happy with the results of the outing, but I wondered how that would change if one of the youngsters came up reeking of eau du poop. Fortunately this didn't happen (or at least no one admitted it) and the educational evening ended happily with hot chocolate and marshmallows back at the parking area.

And I thought I was tired at the end of one of Michael's 5-hour Marymoor Park marathon field trips...

John Tubbs

Snoqualmie, WA

johntubbs at comcast.net


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