Binoculars raised, the Salisbury Community School second graders were tracking a Yellow Warbler as it hopped from tree to tree.  As any bird enthusiast would agree, following the foraging bird through emerging vegetation was a challenge.  But on this day these experienced bird watchers had an extra motivation. This was a Bird-a-thon, a traditional way for Audubon groups to raise money.  The students knew that their sponsors, having pledged to donate a set amount per species seen, would fund their efforts to purchase bird-friendly plantings for their school’s bird feeding stations.

Aided by three Otter Creek Audubon members, all classes identified as many bird species as they could, either by sight or sound.   This was preparation for the real thing – a weekend, community Bird-a-thon.  Organized by the school science teacher, Amy Clapp, all 85 Salisbury students were invited to conduct their own family Bird-a-thon.  Collecting donors was optional, but each was encouraged to involve his or her family in getting out into nature, or even just back yards, to enjoy a quest for as many bird species as they could find.  Enthusiasm was high as the children went home with their hand-made bird books to guide them in identification.

On Monday morning the results of so much focused energy were tallied:  59 species seen, about $550 collected and a weekend of bird stories to share.  A hallway-long chart combined the data to demonstrate species occurrence.  Calculations were made to see which grades had achieved the goal of 70% participation, thus receiving a bonus Friday afternoon nature walk.  Best of all, the entire school community was involved in student-led adventures out into nature.

Bird-a-thon was the culmination of Mrs. Clapp’s year-long commitment to fostering an appreciation for the natural world.  Last summer, building on her interest in birds, Mrs. Clapp used Audubon scholarships to attend a week for educators at Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  When the school year started, she wrote an ACEEF grant, which funded, among other things, three bird feeding stations around the school.  Through weekly bird study and exploration walks with guest leaders from the community, students’ knowledge and appreciation grew.  Spring brought a series of birding classes for 1st and 2nd graders, led by Otter Creek Audubon volunteers.  By the time of the Bird-a-thon, bird watching was a school-wide passion.  No woodpecker, nuthatch or red-tailed hawk species would escape being counted by the sharp eyes of a Salisbury student!

– Carol Ramsayer

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