Earlier this month I had the honor of visiting Washington, D.C.’s Capital City Public Charter School to chat with Ms. Royse’s high school urban ecology class. As the class is currently covering birds, we took a brief birding trip to National Parks Service: Fort Slocum Park which is a short walk over from campus. We started the visit with a meet and greet over lunch (thanks class!). We went around the table to share a bit about ourselves, for example as the students are seniors, they shared their college and future goals. It was extremely inspiring to hear from the students, and the conversation reminded me of my college journey. I explored collegiate track options early on, and with help from mentors I discovered my desired path by way of Environmental Science. I knew one thing– I wanted to be a steward of the outdoors, which lead me to ornithology and birding.
While out birding at Fort Slocum Park, we split into 2 groups. The first group spotted plenty of action in the park with these birds enjoying an early spring morning, Palm Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee and White-throated Sparrow. While my group spotted the “usual suspects,” American Robins, European Starlings and House Sparrows, we also encountered a Northern Brownsnake along a trail which reminded us of the food chain and the park’s ecosystem, bird food!
We shared with the students that listening for the bird calls, particularly in the spring, can help the birder identify the species when not in visual range. In these woody areas you can often hear the teakettle-teakettle song at a distance from the male Carolina Wrens. We also shared interesting behaviors some bird’s exhibit. For example, the Brown-headed Cowbird is infamous for laying its eggs on another birds’ nest. Strategically picking on smaller species, which will allow the young cowbird to hoard food and eventually kick out the host birds.
As students are digitally savvy, we shared available online resources we as birders are increasingly utilizing more of. Apps and websites like eBird help folks easily keep a record of their bird lists which can be shared with the community as a whole. Folks can see what other birders have spotted in the area in real time and explore hotspots according to volume of birds observed.
As a Latina birder, it is important for me to connect with students and share my experiences, not only to encourage students to look into science careers but to showcase that everyone can find a way to connect with nature. Student athletes can visit the trails for endurance training, artist can find inspiration in the outdoors and those adventurers can find a new paths within parks and trails. With activities such as biking, hiking, birding, canoeing, kayaking and everything in between, students in this area have access to a myriad of outdoor options. And with their digital savvy-ness they can use handy apps to find the nearest parks and/or trails. I highly enjoyed sharing my experience with the bright minds of Ms. Royse’s class and future stewards of the outdoors. Best of luck to the students!
Nydia Gutiérrez is a Texas native, hailing from the Rio Grande Valley, a major bird migratory corridor. Ornithology became a passion after taking it as a course in college which required students to enjoy the outdoors and identify birds. Gutiérrez currently resides in Washington, D.C. where she continues to chase the sun and follow the birds. Contact: Nydia@LatinoOutdoors.org