Birds and Words


Our Junior Birding Club, which is a division of PA Young Birders, had its first ever monthly meeting this past April and is now going strong!  I believe we are succeeding in transforming our small dedicated group of about a dozen children into future birders and conservationists who will lead their cohort in environmental action.

Katerina Rubin's Poem & Sketch
Katerina's poem and sketch from the PA Young Birders poetry workshop at Rushton Farm looks like a page torn out of the early works of Sibley or perhaps Thoreau .

In fact, one child at this month’s June meeting boldly announced that he wants to be a “bird watcher scientist” when he grows up.

During April’s meeting, the young birders learned all about migration and mapped out the travel routes of some specific birds that visit Rushton, like the Scarlet Tanager.  They also learned how to use binoculars  that were generously

Young Birders practicing focusing with binoculars
The Young Birders practiced focusing their Nikon binoculars before heading out into the field.

provided by Adrian Binns (A Senior Tour Leader for Wildside Nature Tours) and raced through a high energy obstacle course intended to simulate the trials and tribulations of migrating birds.  The children had so much fun migrating through the obstacles that we couldn’t stop them!  They did the loop over and over again until they finally ran out of steam and said,  “Man!  Migrating is hard!”  Needless to say, the children had a much better appreciation of the migrant birds they saw at the banding station during the May meeting.

Female blue-winged warbler
Female Blue-winged warbler from May 2011, spring migration banding.

This month’s meeting, entitled “Birds and Words,” was a  poetry workshop with special guests, Cathy Staples, who is a Villanova poetry professor and her daughter, Natalie, who is following in her mother’s footsteps and studying English and literature.  The evening was a smashing success!  It began with dynamic Adrian Binns leading another spectacular bird walk through the fields and hedgerows of Rushton Farm.  The children peeked inside several nest boxes which exposed them to the many faces of nature.  In the first box we found tragedy (2 dead tree swallows); the second held hope (an empty nest from which bluebirds had fledged); the last held promise in the four newly laid brown eggs of a house wren.

Blake with Blue jay baby
The children each got to touch the baby blue jay while I explained baby bird behavior.

The children also had the chance to feel the soft down feathers of an adorable baby blue jay, which we borrowed from a free standing nest hidden in the woods.  After returning the baby safely with his siblings, we hunkered down in the banding lodge where Cathy’s enthusiasm and poetic expertise inspired the kids to create lovely poems based on the nature they had experienced during the walk.  As Cathy began the workshop proclaiming, we can all be poets if only we allow ourselves to sense the world around us and bring forth the emotions within.  Cathy’s loyal assistant, Natalie, helped the children translate their thoughts into words on the page.  A big thanks to Adrian, Cathy, and Natalie as it would not have been as magical without them!

Cathy and Jr. Birders
The children were enagaged and enthusiastic as Cathy helped them give poetic form to their thoughts and emotions.

The following is a compilation of verses I selected from all of the children’s poetry from Wednesday evening:

Come Close

by the PA Young Birders of Rushton Woods Preserve

Hither Bald eagle,                                                                
Come Close,
Remember what mother earth says to you:                                   
Studying the Blue jay's feathers
"Study the Blue jay's dark feathers..."
 Drink your tea, says the towhee,
Look for the blue jays sing,
Taste the berries,
 Come hither, come hither, come hither,
The catbird sounds like a race car starting,
Find nests with little chicks and moms feeding the chicks,
Birds like the warmth of your hand,
Study the blue jay’s dark feathers,                            
Feels like cotton.
 Everything around you will always be with you,
You see this all when you come close…

And since we are on the topic of poetry and birds, I thought I would share a poem I wrote about a little House finch who is now in House finch heaven.  I had the wonderful fortune of taking care of him during my time working at an environmental center for a year in central PA.  This special finch was one of the education animals, as he was not fit to be released into the wild.  Birdley was his name and he was totally blind after having survived the house finch eye disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis.  Despite his terrible handicap, Birdley still happily serenaded everyone at the nature center every day of his 11 years of life.  He was an inspiration to all and a reminder that each day is a gift to be lived joyously and with hope, no matter how  dark our circumstances may be.

Birdley’s Song

by Blake H. Goll

A tiny , unpretentious bird at first sight.
Save for the vibrant vermilion of his face, chest, and rump,        
His unkempt feathers are an unimpressive umber,
His feet are like that of an old gnarled tree,
And the space where his left eye once dwelled,
Is now an ugly reminder of his tragedy.
But though his world is dark,
He casts a joyous light,
As far as his voice can reach.
When he opens his heart in song,
A reverent hush falls over the firmament itself.
His song is an intricate flamboyance of golden notes strung together as elegantly as pearls,
Light airy chirps bounce up and down as jubilantly as a child on a swing,
Rich warbles cascade from the depths of his body, as pure as the mountain spring bubbling freely from the earth’s soul.
I doubt my ears will ever hear,
A melody of bird or man,
That eclipses the rapturous divinity,
Of Birdley’s unforgettable song.
Birdley Watercolor print by Blake Goll
Watercolor print of Birdley, the House Finch, by Blake Goll

Remember we all have poetry hidden within!  I encourage you to bring a notepad with you the next time you spend a meditative moment outside in nature.  You never know what might show up on paper when you give your thoughts a pencil.