Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TOGIAK: Kids Excited about Birds Sighted in Dillingham
Alaska Region, May 26, 2009
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Spring across the Bristol Bay region means many things, including warmer weather, longer days, a fairly fast transition from white to green and the return of many animals to the area- including migratory birds. One other rite of spring- for Dillingham Elementary 4th grade students- is the annual Bird Walk.

While no one’s completely certain just how, when or where the Bird Walk got its start, it’s certainly become as regular as seasonal classroom parties, if not actually spring itself. It’s possible the event was initiated by a local women’s birding group in conjunction with the community museum. What is known is that school involvement began over 20 years ago in the class of former Dillingham educator Karen Belleque and has been steadfastly maintained in the classroom of current teacher Janice Larsen (in addition to whomever the other 4th grade teacher happens to be during any given year). U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been involved for many of those twenty plus years, with many Togiak Refuge staff members taking part over the course of those decades. 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.

The Bird Walk actually consists of two pre-walk birding lessons (one hour each). The first lesson focuses 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 discuss the different techniques for making field identifications. The second lesson gives students a chance to learn about visual tools used by birders, as well as a hands-on, classroom based identification simulation. Students are 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 are reviewed and practiced over the course of the simulation.

Weather was touch and go, with heavy rains prevailing on the day before the walk, with predictions of the same for the selected day. However, Mother Nature smiled on walk participants and opened a window of sunny skies and warm temperatures on the day of the walk (Tuesday, May 19th). Students were divided into groups of 5 to 6 students, with 3 to 4 adult chaperones per group. Each group was issued several sets of binoculars as well as field guides. Groups covered wooded and wetland areas near the school, as well as shoreline areas near the small boat harbor. Participants spent two hours observing, identifying, and recording different bird species. And the final results from this year’s bird walk? 30 different species and a total of 260 birds were spotted and recorded the walk, including many types of shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds.

After 20 plus years, the annual 4th Grade Bird Walk remains a tremendous hit with Dillingham Elementary students. And even though this year’s walk is over, it will surely be back again next year, following spring in its journey across the calendar.


Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov
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