Working The North Coast Nature Festival

Migration was just getting hot and heavy in Cleveland, OH this past weekend. White-throated sparrows (above) covered the ground and we could hear some warblers overhead. Part of my festival duties were to lead a "Birdchick Walk" for families at Rocky Ridge Nature Center on Saturday and Sunday. You have to kind of pick your battles on this type of walk. If you have thirty people with you, almost half of whom are under age 8, you really want to consider carefully if you want to point out that Cape May warbler flitting in the trees high overhead. In that type of situation, warblers can become an exercise in futility.

What I love about family groups is that people are excited about Canada geese (like the one snoozing above), red-winged blackbirds, and goldfinches. One of the ladies in our group pointed to some reeds and said "I saw something black and red over there." I guessed red-winged blackbird and a moment later, a male popped up. She confirmed that was the bird she saw. I said, "Good spot!" and her friends high fived her.

On the second day of the field trip, some of the young 'uns were a little rambunctious and more interested in racing down the trail and screaming. It was a warm sunny day, these boys had energy to burn and asking them to be quiet was just not going to cut it. So, I used one of my kid tricks. I told them that one of the best ways for us to find birds is to listen. If we can hear where a bird is ahead of us, that give us a better chance of finding it. Sometimes, it's hard to hear the birds in the distance, so we need to shape our face like an owl. If you cup your hands over your ears and open your mouth--you can increase your hearing ability by up to 40%! At first it looked like the boys weren't going to buy it (note skeptical look of the lad in the green shirt above).

But the kids bought it and continued down the trail a little more quietly. As I was getting the boys to do this, their parents were giggling wildly behind them. As silly as it looks, it really does help increase your hearing--and helps to quiet kids and to teach them to listen on a bird walk. After a few minutes, one of the boys came up to me because he heard a new sound. We listened and we were hearing the trilling of American toads. Very cool.

Amphibians were all over. We heard toads, spring peepers, and even found a bull frog (above). I was fortunate enough to have Jen Brumfield helping me out on my walk (mark my words, she's an amazing illustrator and will be huge in the coming years, Cleveland Metroparks are lucky to have her on staff--check out her books here--the dragonfly book is OUTSTANDING).

Jen was fearless on the walks. Here she is grabbing a frog out of the water for the kids to look at up close.

She also found a red-backed salamander (dark morph) on one of the walks. It was great and all the kids were really impressed. I've not had much experience with salamanders, when she first found this under a log, I thought it was an earthworm.

But looking closer, you could see the little nubby hands. It's kinda cute for a slimy thing you find under a log.

On Sunday, one of the best parts of our walk was finding an old woodpecker cavity chock full of raccoons. The female was sleeping and all you could see were one of her back paws sticking out. Did she party a little to hard Saturday night? We took a moment to digiscope a few photos.

After awhile, she shifted, yawned and started licking...something...

She jostled a bit more in her cavity and then a small ball of fur started moving in front of her--she had young! You can see the back of it's head on the left side of her face. Cute!

Eventually, she popped her head out as if to look down on all of us and say, "Alright, nothing to see here, move along. I don't care where you go, but you can't stay here."

We didn't see huge amounts of birds, but we observed some great wildlife that delighted the crowd. I was so happy to be part of sharing nature, birds and otherwise with the kids, and grateful to have Jen along with me. Oh, and there was one more highlight from the trip:

Notice anything familiar in the above photo? Look at the shirts. Someone is wearing a Disapproving Rabbits shirt! Whoot! Her name is Dawn and she was really sweet. When I told Non Birding Bill about it, he recognized her name and said that she was one of, if not the first person to order a shirt. Thanks, Dawn, for spreading the good work of my bunnies around Ohio. And thanks for coming along, it was so great to meet you!