Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
DON EDWARDS SAN FRANCISCO BAY NWR: Why Birds Matter: South Bay Bird Fest 2014
California-Nevada Offices , July 8, 2014
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Young visitors learn about the perils of bird migration through a fun obstacle course!
Young visitors learn about the perils of bird migration through a fun obstacle course! - Photo Credit: Julie Kahrnoff
Visitors learn about the migratory birds that nest in the marshes of the south San Francisco Bay with volunteer Lynnae Shuck.
Visitors learn about the migratory birds that nest in the marshes of the south San Francisco Bay with volunteer Lynnae Shuck. - Photo Credit: Julie Kahrnoff

By Allison Shell

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge held its annual South Bay Bird Fest on Saturday, May 17, 2014. The event was held at the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Alviso as part of Environment for the America’s International Migratory Bird Day. Bird Fest is a free event open to all and featured many different presentations and activities; from a live bird show starring birds from Sulphur Creek Nature Center to a bird themed obstacle course and arts and crafts. There was fun and learning for guests of all ages.

The Bird Hurdles Obstacle Course helped children experience the difficulties birds may encounter in their daily lives: having to navigate through tall buildings and being careful not to hit any windows, in addition to avoiding harmful chemicals and finding food to feed their young. Venturing inside the EEC, one could turn to the left for The Amazing Xander’s Magic Show or continue on to make a craft or join in on the raffle by making a conservation pledge.

The theme for 2014’s International Migratory Bird Day was “Why Birds Matter” and the South Bay Bird Fest focused on how birds could be considered super heroes. Children were able to make their own bird superhero masks as well as build their own birds by deciding what special abilities they wanted them to have, whether it be wings for long distance flights versus speed and agility, or feet made for swimming versus sharp talons for grabbing prey. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society even helped kids make their own binoculars out of recycled toilet paper rolls.

Once the inside had been explored guests were encouraged to venture outside for the Flying Frenzy Expedition. This walk around the boardwalk took guests out into the salt marsh surrounding the EEC. The five stops along the way offered different activities and educational opportunities. At the first stop, visitors learned about the superhero-like vision many birds of prey have. They are able to use their keen eyes to zero in on their prey from far distances. Guests were able to use tools like telescopes and binoculars to hone in on and identify different avian species while bird watching and were instructed on the proper way to use these tools.

Next on the expedition visitors learned about the different kinds of habitats animals call home. Different species could be matched with their homes at this interactive station while learning about the importance of preserving these different habitats. Moving on, visitors learned about the Pacific Flyway and why the Don Edwards SF Bay NWR is so important to so many different bird species (it’s a prime resting point for many migratory birds as well as an excellent breeding ground). A spotting scope allowed guests to get a spectacular view not only of some migrating species but of some of our year round residents as well—Black-Necked Stilts were nesting not far from the observation point. During these observations it is not unusual to see the birds feeding in the food rich marsh. The next station allowed participants to get a close-up look at different types of bird beaks and just why they are so different. Birds eat a wide range of foods and often the types of foods they can eat are dictated by the size and shape of their beaks-- they can even be compared to utensils humans use like tweezers and spoons!

During the course of the walk around the boardwalk visitors are able to see many different kinds of wildlife and that is because this area is managed by refuge biologists to accommodate these many different species. As walkers approach the levee separating the marsh from the salt pond they can learn about the important restoration projects going on right here at the EEC as a part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Many different species rely on the salt ponds as they are passing through on their migration or may live there year round. While some of the ponds are being restored to marshes, others will remain ponds, though with some changes. The salt ponds seen at the EEC, for example, have had islands added to make them more hospitable for certain bird species. At the end of the expedition participants were rewarded with a Junior Refuge Ranger Badge. The Junior Refuge Ranger program was developed by volunteer Lynnea Shuck as a way to get kids involved at the refuge and empower them to be environmental stewards.

As an intern at the EEC, it was a great pleasure to help organize this year’s Bird Fest with Interpretive Specialist Julie Kahrnoff. The event would not have been the success it was without the colossal amount of help provided by the refuge’s awesome team of staff and volunteers. An additional thank you goes out to the staff and students at George Mayne Elementary School. I had the opportunity to visit the school on multiple occasions with fellow intern Andy Pham to promote Bird Fest. I was amazed with the enthusiasm the kids showed toward learning about birds and conservation. Each of the students made a pledge about helping to conserve the environment and contributed a craft that was used to decorate the walls of the EEC during Bird Fest. It was my goal that this event would not only introduce people to the natural beauty of the refuge but also to the importance of conservation and ways that everyone can get involved—whether it’s something simple like conserving water or something more involved like taking part in a citizen science project like eBirds. I hope that those who came to the Environmental Education Center for the first time will make it a point not only to return but to explore other national wildlife refuges as well.

Allison Shell is a Watershed Watchers Intern at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont, California.


Contact Info: Genie Moore, 408-262-5513, Ext. 100, genie_moore@fws.gov
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