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Focus on Students

Growing Their Feathers

by Anne James Rosenberg

Two weeks after our Young Birders Event, 12 middle schoolers gathered at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for what we like to think of as a “Very Young Birders Event.” Wearing borrowed binoculars around their necks, they watched a Great Blue Heron hunting in a pond, saw its nest high in a dead tree, glimpsed a migrating Olive-sided Flycatcher, and heard the squeaks of a flock of Cedar Waxwings as they foraged on berries.

Officially called Environmental Exploration Days, the occasion was a weeklong camp that allowed the youngsters to explore local natural communities and empowered them to protect these beautiful places. The camp was spearheaded by Cornell Cooperative Extension and included educators from three other local nature centers.

The students traversed the Ithaca area on day trips, including a boat ride on Cayuga Lake, hikes through Ithaca’s famous gorges, a visit to the Cornell Plantations gardens and arboretum, and a tour of a water-treatment plant.

On their visit to the Cornell Lab, the students started with a game of 20 questions from our BirdSleuth afterschool curriculum: each child had a mystery bird taped to his or her back, and they quizzed each other to deduce their identity. Next they checked out binoculars and jumped right into learning the American Goldfinches, Blue Jays, and Northern Cardinals that gathered at our visitor center birdfeeding garden.

On a walk around our Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary, the students compared the woods, shrubby tangles, and wetlands they saw along the trails, and then took a turn at mapping their own backyards in our online YardMap project. At the end of the day, a brainstorming session about the week’s environmental issues led to groups of students designing action plans for each of the top three issues.