I was quite surprised but also thrilled when Liz contacted me and asked if I would be willing to take Ella birding. She said Ella asked her if Aunt Jane would take her birding and show her some birds! As I have said before finding a life list bird is thrilling but next to that is helping someone else find a new bird. Here Ella was a clean slate, she was just starting out on her adventure in birding. That was a lot to live up to. Could I help her find some birds and peak her interest in the hobby of birding? Could I keep a 6 year old interested enough in searching for birds to actually find some high in the tree tops? Ahh, the pressure was on! But I was determined to satisfy her curiosity in nature and make it exciting as well.
Monday was the first day of my school vacation and what could be a better way to spend it than taking my brother's first granddaughter out in the woods to find birds. I arrived at their farm to find Ella packed and ready to hit the trails. She had her backpack stuffed with all the essentials, bug box, net, hand sanitizer, water bottle, snack and the bird book I had given her for her birthday. I brought along a small pair of binoculars for her to use. After a little practice using the binoculars by focusing on her chickens in the yard, she was ready to go. Liz had detailed directions to a rail trail in town she thought would be a good spot to try. We both put on our birding hats and got a spray down from Liz of bug spray and were on our way.
Unfortunately, it was a very hot day, temps in the mid 80's, I knew that meant the birds would not be moving around a lot, I sure hoped we would find some. We soon arrived at the rail trail, I admit I was a bit nervous. I was about to head out on an unfamiliar trail with my young grand-niece, could I meet her expectations of what birding with Aunt Jane was all about? We weren't far down the trail when she spotted a prize. A huge frog! It wasn't a bird but it was a creature she was excited to see and she quickly got out her critter net and bug box to catch it. Sadly there was a hole in the net and the frog escaped. But as we were standing there in the tree above our heads three Cedar Waxwings were hopping about the branches. I showed her a picture of them and we talked about how they got their name. That the tip of their tail and wings are smooth waxy looking and bright yellow and red and look like they were dipped in wax. By explaining the details of the bird to her I hope it will help her remember the bird next time she sees one. It's all about teaching the next generation, pass it down.
We stopped for a snack along the river about a mile down the trail. While sitting there I could hear a Grey Catbird and a Common Yellow Throat calling from the bushes along the far shore. I directed her attention to the bird song and showed her how to mimic their calls. She did great! Both birds were soon answering her calls, but they still wouldn't come into view. Ella skipped rocks across the water and watched the water bugs skating across the surface. Of course, she asked if maybe she could catch them, but I reminded her the net had a hole in it (thankfully) so that idea was nixed quickly.
We continued along the trail. She spotted a Tufted Titmouse first and directed my eyes to it. Great job Ella! We saw a Song Sparrow and Chickadees. We had been on the trail for an hour, it was time to turn around. Before we headed out I explained to Ella that we should keep track of the time and be aware of how far we had walked so that we didn't end up further away from the start than we were prepared for. She would have gone further but when I had her look back and she realized she could not even see the beginning gate of the trail she understood what I meant. I wasn't trying to scare her or make her think we were lost, I just wanted her to be aware of the distance/time we had traveled.
We came upon a trail intersection and she was interested in going up the new trail, but I explained we had already walked a ways and about staying on the main trail, that some other day with her family she could explore the new trail. We took a trail map from the kiosk and I showed her how to follow the red markers on the trees of the trail. I know it was a lot of information for her to absorb but I wanted her to understand that she should not just go running off to explore a new trail off the main trail, to stay on the main trail. She was excited to find a caterpillar crawling up the wooden sign and soon had it in her bug box. Attention diverted.
As we were heading back she suddenly spotted movement in the bushes. It was the Grey Cat Bird! She got a good look at it and she called “meow...meow...meow” and it answered! She later said that was the highlight of our trip. She only saw 7 birds in a two-hour span but each one meant a lot to Ella and that’s all that counts. On the ride back to the house she sat in the backseat of the truck talking to her caterpillar, boy did that bring back memories of you Jeanine. I dropped her off at home sweaty and dirty. I told Ella that meant we had a good day! And I did have a good day birding with Ella!
Happy Birding, Jane