Tuesday November 28th, 2023 1:53PM

Elachee gears up for the Great Backyard Bird Count

By Regan Spinks I Video: Lauren Hunter

Local explorers will have several chances to learn the ins and outs of bird watching during Elachee Nature Science Center’s upcoming week of bird education.

Throughout the week of Feb. 8-13, the science center will host both virtual and in-person events to educate the community about birds and encourage local participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a global bird counting initiative sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Birds Canada. During the Great Backyard Bird Count, participants around the globe spend four days counting birds and logging them into the project’s website to be utilized by scientists. This year’s count is slated for Feb. 12-15.

“It’s kind of a citizens’ science project,” said Elachee Camp & Programs Manager Maranda McGaha. “It helps them with tracking migratory patterns and getting a count on what kind of species are where during those four days.”

McGaha said they decided to push the initiative at Elachee this year because of the variety of bird species and migratory species in the area. To encourage participation in the count, a variety of free resources related to birding are available on the center’s website, including tips for attracting birds to your yard and bird-themed coloring pages for kids. The center will also host a virtual science night on Zoom with Georgann Schmalz entitled “How to Be a Better Birder,” where attendees can learn tips about bird watching and counting.

The weeklong initiative will culminate on Saturday, Feb. 13, when the center will host a slew of birding activities during Discovery Saturdays at Elachee.

The day will start with an adult birding hike at Chicopee Lake led by Peter Gordon, a birder who recently retired from Elachee. The hike will begin at 8 a.m. for adults 18 and older and costs $10 per adult. There is no charge for Elachee members. To register for the hike, click here.

Following the hike, children of all ages will get the chance to participate in owl crafts and an owl pellet dissection beginning at 11 a.m. The owl pellets for the dissection will be provided by Chewy, Elachee’s resident Great Horned Owl.

“An owl pellet is kind of a regurgitated mass of what the owl has eaten that he can’t digest, so it’s full of bones, feathers, fur and all that kind of stuff,” McGaha said. “It’s really cool for the kids to get to dissect and they just kind of look through it and see what they can find. We have some owl pellet charts and bone charts so they can actually figure out what bone is what and what it came from, and they get to take the bones home with them, which they love.”

Other events will include a birding lane set-up from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., where birders will be able to practice their bird identification skills, and a “compare your wingspan” banner where attendees can spread their arms and see how their wingspan compares to that of birds like the osprey and red-tailed hawk. The center’s Live Animal Room Exhibit will also be open for guests to walk through throughout the day.

McGaha said that while Elachee has always announced that the Great Backyard Bird Count is going on, this is the first year the center has planned activities for it.

“We’re kind of pushing it a little bit more because we didn’t get to do Raptor Fest last year and then this year we’re doing something a little different,” McGaha said. “Raptor Fest is usually in March but we are doing our Raptor Fest and Snake Day together in September, so it’s a little bit of a while until we get to celebrate birds again. We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do that in the meantime.”

To provide a safe environment due to COVID-19, all activities on Saturday will take place outside and masks will be required at all times, except when socially distanced on the birding hike in the morning. In addition, sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the venue and tables will be sanitized after each rotation.

McGaha said she is hoping to continue the initiative in future years if all goes well.

“What I’m hoping kids and everyone will take away is that they know more about birds than they think they do, and that actually once you sit down and just take a moment to look out your window or just take a moment wherever you are, it’s really easy to appreciate birds for what they are, just wherever you are,” McGaha said. “A lot of people are intimidated by bird watching because there are a lot of species and there’s a lot to learn, but you can also make it as simple and fun as you’d like to make it.”

General admission to the Visitor Center and Live Animal Room Exhibit on Saturday is $5 per adult, $3 per child and free for Elachee members, and includes access to owl crafts, the birding lane, compare your wingspan banner and other birding activities. Reservations and a $20 fee per table are required for the Owl Pellet Dissection Program. This $20 fee includes access to the Visitor Center and Live Animal Room Exhibit. To register for the Owl Pellet Dissection Program, click here.

Elachee Nature Science Center is a regional environmental education center located in the Chicopee Woods Conservation Area in Gainesville. For more information on Elachee Nature Science Center or the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit www.elachee.org.

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