Joanna Gilkeson, External Affairs, Pacific Southwest Region, tells us about a sixth-grade trip to Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.
Surrounded by desert, mountains and farm fields, Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is a much-welcomed oasis for migratory birds passing through the heart of southeastern California. In November, the refuge hosted nearly 100 Sixth-Graders to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty (MBT).
Felicia Sirchia and Peter Sanzenbacher, Service biologists, are passionate about connecting young people with the outdoors. The two led the charge to invite the local sixth-graders to the refuge, many of whom had never visited the area, despite its proximity to their community. “Many of these students are underserved when it comes to experiencing nature. We wanted to teach them tangible outdoor skills – how to use binoculars and scopes and how to identify migratory birds,” says Sanzenbacher.
The day began with discussions about bird migration and the everyday challenges birds face, warming the students up to the idea of wildlife. The sixth-graders participated in an interactive game where they “transformed” into birds so they could learn about and experience the different challenges migratory birds face along their long journeys, including predators and storms. Then the students learned about the “superpowers” of migratory birds, those special physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to migrate great distances between their breeding and overwintering areas.
The sixth-graders were finally introduced to the basics of bird identification, both sight and sound, and learned how to use binoculars and scopes to test out their new skills and identify the spectacular birds of the Salton Sea. “Over the course of the day, we saw the students become more confident in their birding abilities, and seek out the awesome diversity of wildlife in their backyard,” Sirchia says. “It was great to see the students become empowered.”
Chris Schoneman, project leader at the refuge, believes that this event can be expanded upon. “It was a terrific example of how we can provide our communities with an even better nature experience when we combine our talents within FWS and our volunteers and refuge Friends groups. Even though the MBT Centennial was the celebration this year, we hope to continue this experience with our local schools into future years."
Thanks to the staff, volunteers and Friends who helped make the event possible. And thanks to the sixth-graders and teachers of Bill E. Young Middle School in Calipatria, California, for their energy and enthusiasm.