Saturday, December 13, 2008

This Birding Life: New Episode!


Episode #18 of my podcast, This Birding Life, is now available for your listening and viewing pleasure. The new episode is titled "Phoebe and the Young Birder's Guide." As with most episodes of TBL, this one comes in both enhanced audio M4a format (with images) and in regular MP3 (audio only) format. You can listen/watch on your computer, on your MP3 player, iPod, iPhone, or anything else that plays digital files. This does not include that new Close N'Play record player that Santa is bringing you in a few days.

In this latest episode, I interview Phoebe Thompson, age 12, my primary co-author (with her 20 or so classmates) on The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. Phoebe and I talk about how the book came to be, about the perception of bird watchers among her peers, and about her life in a family of birders. I happen to think Phoebe did a great job in the interview, but then again, I might be biased since Phoebe is also my daughter.

Phoebe digs birds.


I'm hoping listeners will forgive this bit of nepotism. And I'm also hoping that all of us bird people will do what we can to "pay it forward" by sharing the world of birds with a young person. I've written before about Nature Deficit Disorder here in Bill of the Birds. It's a very real concern. Why not ask an interested youngster along on your next field trip, Christmas Bird Count, or to a bird club meeting? We all need to contribute to get kids interested in some aspect of the natural world. I happen to think that birds are the very best way to accomplish this.



For young birders surfing the Web, the newly redesigned "Young Birders" section of the Bird Watcher's Digest website has some great content, a bird quiz, tips for better bird watching, and more. The section also includes information about the new booklet we've just created Bird Watching For Kids! I'll write more about this booklet in a future post here at BOTB.

Special thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company for their sponsorship of This Birding Life.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Young Birders in Texas

I was glad to have my spotting scope along. I kept it set on midget and the kids dug the great bird looks. Photo by Liz Gordon.

During the recently completed Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I gave a presentation my most recent book, The Young Birder's Guide and discussed how we adults can help to get more kids into birds and nature. And that was fun and seemed to be well-received.

What was even better was getting to take two groups of local kids out birding in the park across the street from the festival headquarters. All told we took out about 35 youngsters and a dozen or so accompanying adults. The bird list was not exceptionally long, but we had big fun. Helping me herd the kids, spot birds, and impersonate sun-bathing Inca doves was Liz Gordon. Liz is a natural with kids, due in large measure to her own forever-young outlook on life. (Thanks again Liz of the Cosmos!)

We gathered 'round the field guide after each new species was sighted. Photo by Liz Gordon.


Susan Hoehne was the festival's coordinator for kids activities and she graciously arranged for us to borrow 15 pairs of compact Brunton binoculars from the Valley Nature Center. These came in very handy (as did the binocs loaned to us by our friends at Eagle Optics)—each kid got to have his or her own pair to use on the field trip.
Small binoculars work best for small hands and close-set eyes. Photo by Liz Gordon.

After a few quick lessons on using the binocs we crossed the street to Lon C. Hill Park seeking birds. The afternoon prior I had scouted around the auditorium and park to see if there were any stake-out species I could rely on. There were no birds in the afternoon heat. ¡Campo sin pajaros!

I felt better on Saturday morning when I showed up an hour before the first kids bird walk and found lots of bird activity. A pair of red-crowned parrots low in one of the park's trees were the best of the early birds. Alas they did not stay around for the kids to see.

Our total bird list was as follows:
  1. great-tailed grackle
  2. Brewer's blackbird
  3. golden-fronted woodpecker
  4. yellow-bellied sapsucker
  5. house sparrow
  6. rock pigeon
  7. Inca dove
  8. Eurasian collared dove
  9. European starling
  10. Couch's kingbird
  11. turkey vulture
  12. Lincoln's sparrow
  13. northern mockingbird
  14. laughing gull
  15. orange-crowned warbler
I gave away copies of the Young Birder's Guide to a few very interested youngsters and sold a few others to their thoughtful and generous adults.

The thing I was most pleased about was that Liz and I opened the eyes of these three dozen or so young south Texans to the avian wonders of their part of the world. They knew about the local parrots and chachalacas, but the mockingbird, golden-fronted woodpecker, Inca doves, and Couch's kingbird had them saying "Awesome!" and "Cool!" and "Oh WOW!"
Watching two very active golden-fronted woodpeckers. Photo by Liz Gordon.


I have to say, I am pretty sure that's why I was put here on Earth—to show people (of all ages, but especially kids) awesome and cool birds!

The second field trip of the morning. That's me in the green shirt with the littlest birder. At far left: Liz Gordon, my co-leader.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Those Days Are Gone


It used to be when I needed a set-up photograph of kids birding for use in a slide show, I'd ask my very own kids and they'd grab binocs and pose for the camera without batting an eye. Then they started asking for an appearance fee. Now I have to go through their agent to book them for a shoot.

I took this photo of Phoebe at the New River Birding Festival about 30 minutes before I used this very image in a presentation about kids and birds. It cost me a $2 and the use of my laptop for the afternoon.

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