Stu­dents raise their sights

Spinoff of Audubon tra­di­tion puts stu­dents be­hind binoc­u­lars to tally and learn about com­mon and rare birds

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JEN­NIFER BUSKE

Bun­dled up in a pink snow­suit and equipped with a pair of binoc­u­lars, Brent Ele­men­tary School sec­ond-grader Eve­lyn Han­son didn’t let Satur­day’s early morn­ing snow and bit­ter tem­per­a­tures keep her from a bird­watch­ing ad­ven­ture with class­mates.

For a few hours, Eve­lyn and about 150 other stu­dents and their par­ents ven­tured to East Po­tomac Park, Ke­nil­worth Park Aquatic Gar­dens and the Na­tional Ar­bore­tum for the sec­ond an­nual New Year’s Bird Count for Kids.

“I re­ally like birds be­cause they can fly, and I like how the dec­o­ra­tions on them look,” Eve­lyn, 7, said. “I saw a Mr. and Mrs. Mal­lard. I knew it was a Mr. and Mrs. be­cause the boy had the green head.” Satur­day’s event is a spinoff of the

Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety’s cen­tury-old Christ­mas Bird Count, dur­ing which vol­un­teers across the coun­try gather for a few weeks each win­ter to count and iden­tify birds. The data they gather help wildlife of­fi­cials de­ter­mine the health of bird pop­u­la­tions and how to pro­tect

birds and their habi­tats, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety’s Web site.

Brent was the first pub­lic school to hold a bird count for chil­dren last year, and now there are about 30 stu­dent-ori­ented bird counts across the coun­try, said sci­ence teacherMikeMan­gia­racina. He ini­ti­ated the lo­cal event, which also in­cluded “ binoc­u­lar boot camp” and a les­son from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ex­perts.

“ This is a way for stu­dents and par­ents to see the world around them in a very dif­fer­ent way,” he said. “ The nice thing about birds is they are al­ways there, but you may not al­ways no­tice them. I want peo­ple to see there are in­ter­est­ing things right in their own yard.”

Sec­ond-grader Luca Smith al­ready counts him­self as a pro bird-watcher. He went on last year’s count and also tracks birds in his own back yard.

“It’s fun to see a lot of birds and ones I have never seen be­fore,” Luca said. “I’ve learned birds like to perch on ice. I also learned to­day [that a class­mate] has su­per cold feet.”

Man­gia­racina said the stu­dents recorded see­ing just over 1,100 in­di­vid­ual birds Satur­day, which rep­re­sented 29 species. The data col­lected will be sent to the on­line data­base ebird and passed on to the lo­cal or na­tional Audubon so­ci­ety.

Stu­dents saw geese, ring-billed gulls, mal­lards and more rare birds.

“I sawa bald ea­gle! I sawa bald ea­gle!” third-grader Tor­renz Ward said. “It was cool, but I re­ally wanted to see a robin, be­cause I like their red belly.”

By lunchtime, stu­dents were happy to get back to their school to eat and drink hot choco­late. “We all got so cold, but it was so fun,” fourth-grader Bethan Townsend said.

“I love birds and would do it again, even if I have to suf­fer in the cold­ness.”

PHO­TOS BY ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Brent Ele­men­tary School stu­dent Amalia Proper, 7, at top, was part of the an­nual New Year’s Bird Count for Kids along the Po­tomac River atHains Point. Paul Baicich, who brought a group of stu­dents, teach­ers and fam­i­lies out for the event, raises his arms while watch­ing a flock of Canada geese glid­ing along the river.

PHO­TOS BY ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Aleta Dust of the Rap­tor Con­ser­vancy of Vir­ginia shows a red-tailed hawk to Brent Ele­men­tary School stu­dents, teach­ers and fam­i­lies af­ter they con­ducted their an­nual New Year’s Bird Count for Kids, which is adapted from a cen­tury-old Audubon So­ci­ety tra­di­tion.

Paul Baicich shows Pa­trick Rucker, 9, how to use a monoc­u­lar dur­ing the bird count along the Po­tomac River.

Tor­ren­zWard, 8, was among stu­dents count­ing birds along the Po­tomac River atHains Point. They vis­ited some city parks and recre­ation ar­eas and counted the birds they dis­cov­ered.

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