By Dan Zoimek
When you are young, every bird you see is a life bird (one you’ve never seen before). Learning bird songs is like learning a foreign language, but hearing them repeatedly allows you to remember them for the rest of your life. In addition, when you are young (at least when I was young) exploring new places such as Mt. Tom, Wildwood Cemetery, Concord Marsh, and Plum Island introduces you to a world you never knew existed and helps you understand what makes each environment different. This is my aim with my youth birding course at the Hitchcock Center. Each spring I lead a new group of intrepid young bird enthusiasts out into the field in search of spring migrants passing through the valley we call home. We travel to different locations hoping to find the specialties for that particular spot.
I will admit that finding birds young people can easily see in their binoculars is quite a challenge, but I think the focus is good for everyone. With technology, kids are constantly being entertained by screens, gadgets, and games, and being out in the field looking for birds is an opportunity for kids to unplug and learn how to focus. Waterfowl and raptors are usually the easiest for them to find. During my 2014 class, we were walking along the dike in Hadley on a windy, cold day. I had pretty much given up on seeing any more birds by that point in the morning when a student called to me and said “Dan, what’s that grey bird over there?” I quickly turned around and sailing over the field came a beautiful male Northern Harrier. The young birder who spotted the “grey ghost” was excited by his discovery and the rest of the class fed off of his excitement as the bird sailed up and over the Connecticut River. It was a great find for our class and a special moment for me.
That same class was with me for Biothon Weekend 2015 at the Fort River division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge when we came across a singing male Hooded Warbler. This is a rare bird any time in the valley and I could barely contain my own excitement. We all watched and admired the bird and several students were enthralled by the new song. We continued to observe the bird until I heard the phrase recognized by all parents “How much longer….” I could have spent the day, and it’s always good for me to learn valuable lessons about my student’s attention spans.
There are highs and lows to birding when you are young, but I will continue to offer this class through the Hitchcock Center in an effort to influence young birders. Birding is a lifelong passion of mine that began when I was a boy. Having older siblings who were interested certainly helped, but it was the influence of mentors such as Gerry Bozzo at Amherst Middle School, Steve Stanne at the Hitchcock Center, and Scott Surner from Hampshire Bird Club that really fueled my love of birds. I feel I owe it to my mentors who instilled this love of birds and the natural world in me, and I enjoy watching that same sense of discovery on the faces of new students each spring.
Look for Dan’s course, Beginning Birding for Youth and Families, to be offered in the spring of 2016, the third year of the program.
Dan Ziomek has a love for plants and a passion for birding. As the Nursery Manager at the Hadley Garden Center for 25 years he enjoys teaching people about plants. His interest in birding was nurtured through Hitchcock Center classes with Steve Stanne and he currently hosts a daily radio segment dedicated to teaching the public about the birds in our backyards. Now with two children of his own, he appreciates all the programs and classes offered for families. Serving as a member of the Hitchcock Center Board of Directors he feels he is doing his part to support an organization that helped to foster his love for the environment and which will help future generations appreciate the special world we live in.Click here to return to full list of blog entries. Or chose a specific Blog category below.