Saturday, July 11, 2009

Marsh Camp

I spent all last week volunteering at Marsh Camp, a bird-oriented day camp for children mostly nine and ten years old. The camp, organized and run by Sea and Sage Audubon, is based at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. In addition to teaching kids about birds, I was able to do a lot of birding.

San Joaquin is only thirteen miles from my house, so I rode my bike there every morning. If I didn't stop to look at birds or slack off at pedaling, I could do it in fifty minutes. I still managed to spot a few interesting birds while cruising at twenty miles per hour, including Greater Yellowlegs, Common Moorhen, and White-faced Ibis. A brisk thirteen-mile ride in the early morning is a good way to start the day!

Most of the camp days followed a similar schedule. The main morning event was the bird walk. Every morning, I accompanied four campers and an adult naturalist around the trails, looking for birds and other interesting life forms. None of the kids in my group (top of post) were super-birders, but they knew their birds and were interested. We started with easily-observed species such as American Avocets, including this baby.

Even the plain old Mourning Doves provided good opportunities for the kids to study and sketch birds.

By the end of the week, the campers were eagerly seeking out more elusive species such as White-tailed Kite and Virginia Rail to add to their list for the week. They ended up with sixty-five species for the week, which isn't crummy for a bunch of beginning birders. It was encouraging to see a group of kids enthusiastic about birding - I hope they keep it up.

The afternoons were spent indoors, where I helped direct games and teach lessons. Some of the more interesting indoor activities including dissecting owl pellets, constructing bird feeders, and playing bird trivia.

On Thursday, the "raptor lady" from the Orange County Bird of Prey Center visited to show some raptors to the campers. It was bittersweet to see the injured raptors up close, knowing they could never be released back into the wild. Some had been hit by cars; others had been stolen out of nests and become imprinted on humans. Here are photos of two owls that were brought in, a Western Screech-Owl and a Great Horned Owl.

I had fun all last week, even though I was working hard most of the time. I'll be back all next week helping with another week of Marsh Camp, and then for two weeks after that I will be assisting with Advanced Camp. Hopefully I'll see some more interesting birds, and maybe even get a few Bigby birds!

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