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TOGIAK: Fourth Graders Jump into Birding
Alaska Region, July 1, 2008
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A group of fourth grade students from Dillingham Elementary works to identify waterfowl species on a wetland area near the school.
A group of fourth grade students from Dillingham Elementary works to identify waterfowl species on a wetland area near the school. - Photo Credit: n/a

There are many things that signal spring’s return to Bristol Bay: longer days, warmer weather, melting snow, migratory birds returning… and Mrs. Larsen’s annual 4th Grade Bird Walk, in search of many of those migratory birds.

Janice Larsen has been a 4th grade teacher at Dillingham Elementary School for over 20 years. For many of those years there has also been a corresponding springtime bird walk- or some other form of aviary activity for her students. The actual beginnings to what has become a yearly bird walk are a bit sketchy, as things that exceed two decades and involve several people tend to be. Mrs. Larsen is quick to point out that any such birding activities were already happening in former teacher Karen Belleque’s class before her own arrival in Dillingham, and such activities may have been initiated by a local women’s birding group associated with the community museum. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been involved for many of those twenty years, although exactly how long and the individuals who have been involved are also largely unknown. In any event, the bird walk has become an annual happening in Mrs. Larsen’s class, one that’s eagerly anticipated by both students and parents alike.

This year’s class, along with the other Dillingham Elementary fourth grade class, participated in two pre-walk birding lessons (one hour each) with a Refuge staff member. The first lesson focused on bird adaptations, along with the different categories of birds and specific species within each category that are common to the Dillingham area. Students also discussed the different techniques for making field identifications. The second lesson gave students a chance to learn about visual tools used by birders, as well as a hands-on, classroom based identification simulation. Students were shown a brief, timed image of an unknown bird and then given a few minutes to consult with a field guide in an attempt to identify the bird. Different identification techniques were reviewed over the course of the simulation.

Great weather prevailed for the actual walk, which took place on Tuesday, May 20th. Students were divided into five groups of 5 to 6 students, with each group having 3 to 4 adult chaperones (teachers, instructional aides, parents, volunteers and refuge staff members.) Each group was issued several sets of binoculars and field guides. Groups set out in different directions and hiked a section of wetland bordered by dense wooded areas close to the elementary school. Groups spent ninety minutes observing, identifying, and recording different bird species during the course of their hike.

And the final results from this year’s bird walk? 31 different species and a total of 310 birds were spotted and recorded during the hour and a half walk, including many types of shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds. Perhaps the one thing that exceeded the number of species identified was the number of good times had by both students and adults, who learned first hand the enjoyment that can be had by birding in one’s own backyard.


Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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