It is early on a rainy March morning. My daughter, Klara, and I stand together – holding hands in the midst of a circle of people we do not know. Rain drips off the tip of her nose and she catches it with her tongue as she waits for the formalities to end and the fun to begin. The formalities in this case consist of everybody in the circle introducing themselves, but for a six year old ready to romp in the woods this small act might as well be measured on a geologic time scale rather than passing minutes. It is our first morning out with the local Audubon Society. I should preface this by saying that Klara is excited about birds and being relatively new to the Midwest we thought this would be a great way to learn more about the birds inhabiting our new location.
And learn a lot we sure did! Once the introductions wrapped up and we made our way quietly (yes, even the wide eyed six year old!) out on the birdwalk the surrounding skies, trees, and ground revealed their hidden secrets to us. The veteran birders in the group were incredibly helpful to both of us – had this been one of our normal family outings we would have missed so many unexpected gems – such as the pair of cooper’s hawks nesting on a snag. Temporary residents, ruby crowned kinglets, flitted through the air between the branches above us. These tiny birds are not much bigger than hummingbirds. There were so many more observations on our walk, but the most amazing sight on our outing was to witness Klara’s interactions with some of the veteran birders who “took her under their wings” and helped her to locate birds so well camouflaged in their surroundings. They offered her sage advice on how to practice bringing objects into view with her dad’s big binoculars. Most importantly they were a great group of natural historians and shared so much with us about this tiny woodland in the middle of the Illinois prairie.
The favorite find for Klara on our outing was not the yellow bellied sapsucker or the hawk pair working together to build their family home. It was what was revealed to her when a member of the group rolled back a rotten log to reveal three small-mouthed salamanders. Not exactly a bird but nonetheless one more key that unlocked a door revealing more of the secrets of nature to my daughter.
Check the main Audubon website for information about your local Audubon Society Chapter.