Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Great School Yard Species Contest!

I have been inspired, with each and every school visit that I make for work with School Specialty, an education-focused company, to do something to encourage kids to play a more active role in nature and the environment. On a daily basis, I drop by many public and private schools within several counties throughout Maryland. Maryland’s schools are surrounded by an array of various habitats. From open fields, to ponds, marsh, lakes and rivers, to brush, wildflowers and shrubs, to wooded lots of pine, oak, maple, magnolia and other forest giants, our school’s yards are becoming THE wildest places in Maryland.

So what to do with all of this potential habitat, our pressing environmental issues and hundreds of school buildings filled with eager-to-learn students? That combination creates a rather unique opportunity to radically improve all three.

How, you ask? Well, these links are a great start:

Audubon At Home Schoolyard

US Fish & Wildlife Service's Habitat Guide

No Child Left Inside!

Last Child in the Woods


I propose the following:

The Great Maryland School Yard Species Contest!

Objective: Through experiential learning, the district’s elementary school students will receive targeted education about a.) Local and migrating bird species and populations, b.) Local and regional wild animals, and c.) The region’s native plants, trees and flowers. Students would then be challenged to plan, create and maintain environments within the confines of school grounds. Throughout the year, students will monitor and count the populations of wild bird, native plant and wild animal species that live, breed, feed and visit the schoolyard. At the end of the year, the school with the most points will win a prize (money, school supplies, a field trip, a party). Points will be awarded for local plants, variety of habitats, species identification and documented improvements to the schoolyard. Extra credit could be rewarded for such things like: art work, short stories, science projects, etc. Contest will be judged by experts from local garden centers, politicians, wildlife sanctuaries, bird organizations, etc. and will be awarded at the end of the calendar year.

In order to succeed, cooperation would be required from parents, teachers, volunteers, local wild bird stores, gardening centers, arboretums, education-focused companies (like School Specialty) and environmental organizations like the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Audubon, Patuxent National Wildlife Center, American Bird Conservancy, Maryland Ornithological Society, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, local newspapers, press and TV news.

Lesson plans consist of (but not limited to):
-Core science curriculum combined with hands-on, experiential learning.
-Learning to identify and count birds, plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects.
-Learning about the life and behaviors of birds, plants and animals.
-Learning how to increase the numbers and varieties of those birds, plants and animals in the schoolyard.

Habitat preparation:
-Research, develop and construct schoolyard environments that will attract both a diverse variety and larger quantities of species.
-Develop and implement monitoring programs with assistance and guidance from volunteers, parents and experts.
-Develop and monitor nest box programs in the spring and summer months
-Introduce and maintain native plant species within the schoolyard.

Counting and Monitoring:
-Plan times before, during and after school to count species (variety and number).
-Keep detailed records throughout the year.
-Submit and present success stories, positive impacts and improvements in habitat, species variety and numbers.
-Categorize each school by geographic environment: urban / rural / suburban

RESULTS:

Student’s BENEFITS:
-Improved test scores in the sciences.
-Experiential, hands on learning.
-Gain a deeper knowledge of the world around them, conservation and making a difference locally.
-Increased physical activity outdoors.
-Increased awareness of and interest in the outdoors, the environment and conservation.
The Educator’s BENEFITS:
-Improved test scores.
-Increased interest from the students.
-Higher Standarized Test Scores.
-Opportunity for cross-curriculum in areas of art (drawing/sculpting/painting nature), math (counting and monitoring), reading and writing (stories and creative writing exercises) as well the obvious life and environmental sciences!
School and School System BENEFITS:
-Higher Test Scores and a diversified learning environment.
-Parents will want to send their kids to these great schools.
-Improved natural habitat throughout the contest area for local wildlife, birds and native species means a greener, healthier environment!
Participant BENEFITS:
-Recognition, advertising and increased business for their donations and discounts on the necessary supplies, materials and participation in the program.
Wildlife BENEFITS:
-The birds and other wild animals receive a better place to live, eat and raise their young, while the native plant species increase. The watershed gets less runoff.
WE ALL BENEFIT when the participating schools finish the school year with GREENER SCHOOL YARDS.

THE CONTEST:

Students will research, plan, build & create mini habitats in the schoolyard.
Students will, throughout the academic year, monitor and count:
-Birds (numbers and species)
-Plants (number of native species present and introduced)
-Wild Animal Species (seen and/or habitat created)
-Create and maintain these natural areas on the school grounds.
Garden Centers, Arboretums will donate / offer at a discount:
-Native plants, flowers and trees, soil conditioner, mulch, etc.
-Help, advice and help in the creation and maintainance of these natural areas on the school grounds.
Wild Bird Stores, Nature retailers will donate / offer at a discount:
-Seed, bird houses, bird bathes, etc.
-Help, advice and help in the creation and maintainance of these natural areas on the school grounds.
Organizations (DNR, Audubon, CBF, PTA, parents & volunteers):
-Advice, demonstrations, manpower, online resources
-Help, advice and help in the creation and maintainance of these natural areas on the school grounds.

At the end of the calendar year, the top 5 schools in the participating County/School District receive discounts for their students at local retailers involved with the contest, a full-day field trip to one of premier Maryland's Natural Areas AND a party at the school in the spring! The winning school will also receive those prizes, PLUS a substantial financial reward!

The challenges of course are numerous.
-Developing approved lesson plans.
-Training the teachers.
-Promoting the competition.
-Finding local businesses to become involved in the competition.
-Finding the time during the already busy school year for children to learn this priceless knowledge.
-Finding the time during the already busy school year for teachers to teach these lessons.
-Finding school systems willing to fully participate in the effort.
-Finding volunteers, experts and helpers to assist in the monitoring, awarding and promotion of this year-long project.

But, despite those challenges, the potential rewards are well worth the effort. I welcome any and all help overcoming these obstacles in order to make this competition a reality. I am eager to hear your IDEAS and THOUGHTS on this subject.

Regards,

Dan Haas

Friday, September 21, 2007

Say Hello To My Son

Here he is in three dimensions! Look at my boy, not even out of the womb and he's already rocking out. There was a few photos of him pretending to spot a warbler in a tree with his binoculars, but those pics didn't come out as well as the 'rock n' roll' pose that you see here.

How about that?? He should be arriving at the end of December. And yes, Emery and I have his name all picked out. We are keeping it to ourselved until he arrives this winter.

-Dan

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bills UP, Bills DOWN... it's Migration in Maryland

I've got some photos to share with you of some birds, animals, trees and one extinct creature that I've recently spotted.

The American Avocet was at the North Beach Marsh on the Anne Arundel / Calvert County border (can I count it for both I wonder?). The WHIMBREL was at Mayo Beach in Anne Arundel County. The ground hog was at Waterworks park. The trees are from the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp in Calvert. Oh... I almost forgot to mention, I finally added CARRIER PIGEON to my life list. I spotted on perched completely motionless at the Audubon home last week in Mill Grove, PA! What a spot. (I also had Carolina Parakeet, but the photo didn't turn out so hot).

Enjoy some photos why don't you.

-Dan

AMERICAN AVOCET


WHIMBREL


WHIMBREL


AMERICAN GROUNDHOG


BATTLE CREEK CYPRESS SWAMP


CARRIER PIGEON!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The American Kestrel

Hello everyone. I am thinking of embarking on a noble project here in Maryland to raise awareness and hopefully (one day) bring back a healthy population of American Kestrels to the Free State. There has been a noticeable decline of this species on the East (and West) Coasts of the US.

Experts speculate that reasons for the decline could be anything from global warming to predation to extreme loss of habitat, including areas of food sources nesting habitat. There is much to learn about what is going on with this species, but every little bit of data helps. So I'll be doing some work with this website: www.mdkestrel.com.

I plan to work with the State's farmers, wildlife experts, hikers, birders and anyone else who might be interested to help add important data to the research regarding the Kestrel's decline in population.

In the meantime, check out this wonderful photo of Craig from USFWS with the injured falcon from the rescue that occured a short while back. I am awaiting a medical update on the bird, but at last report, the bird was recovering with no lasting damage.

All the best,

Dan Haas

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Falcons and Nighthawks and Rescues... oh my

I received this email this morning about the rescued PEREGRINE FALCON from earlier this week. I've just learned that this bird is named "Bubbles." She was born, hatched and raised in Richmond, VA this summer. Here is the email:

-----------------------------------------

Dan,

VA biologists took 2 just banded falcons away from Mom and Dad and sent them to the VA/KY border. We had watched them since they were young. First pages below... and with slides of the one you rescued in MD.

We are sooooooo happy you got involved. We are calling the rescued one Bubbles as she was the baby. We think she was flying back to Mom and Dad as she came so close to Richmond, VA, where the scrape is. You will see too many photos when we tried to convince the VA biologists to remove the cage so parents and the other two would return.

FORUM LINK

Some of the girls get carried away with their postings but truly we were heartbroken when they removed the 2 falcons -- one of which you just saved from death!

Here at the beginning is my capture slides of Bubbles Dad returning to the scrape after the cage was removed. I watch every day...

FORUM LINK

THANK YOU, THANK YOU for rescuing one of our babies we have not seen since July 2007.

Joanne in CT.

PS: I'm including a slide taken in July 2007 of the 4 chicks still together in Richmond on the twin towers...one of the 2 smallest you saved her life!!!

-----------------------------------------

Here is an official link: Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries

In other news, I returned Saturday at daybreak to look for the possibly injured COMMON NIGHTHAWK. More good news... the bird was no where to be found. I sent some photos to my friend Andy. He believes that the bird is a 2nd year male.

I will presume the best.

I rather enjoy saving birds. It feels good to help.

Good birding,

Dan

Friday, September 7, 2007

Nighthawks (before) Dinner: Bird Rescue Pts II, III and IV

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's happened again. I was called to rescue an potentially injured bird. But first, an update on this week's PEREGRINE FALCON rescue.

I placed a follow-up call on Thursday evening. The vet informed me that the Peregrine is doing ok. She was a little slow to respond. Although she was more than a bit dehydrated, the vet said she looked like she might be able to recover and hopefully one day soon, be released back into the wild. She may have some fractured ribs and potential cognitive/brain issues. That remains to be seen and time will tell if she recovers fully. The good news is the wings and sternum are unbroken.

Regarding the plethora of bird strike window kills at this particular office building, USFWS is taking action to get them treated and corrected. Some office workers estimate that over 600 birds have died over the last few years since this building has been built. While the rescue was taking place, there were many building workers stunned watching on their lunch break. Hopefully, the situation will be corrected soon.

In the meantime, I just wanted to mention that the folks at Tri-State are doing an excellent job.

BIG THANKS go out to MDOSPREY, Tri-State, Ed and Doug at the office for all of their help and letting the right people know about the injured bird, Phil Davis for sending the intial email and yet again, Craig at USFWS for saving this falcon's life. And I will keep you informed as to how the bird is recovering and if there is a release date planned, I'll let everyone know that as well.

NOW, back to today's story.

As I am finishing up my work day (which included a great look from 20 feet at an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER), I had a phone call from Bill Herald, owner of the Wild Bird Center here in West Annapolis. (oh, but first, some American Golden Plover photos!)
As I was saying, a local Annapolis neighbor called Bill saying he had an injured hawk in his yard. Bill called me and I went to have a look.

It was a nighthawk, out in the open grass, looking at us and not moving. When I went to check if it was alive, the bird flew 20 feet. It never got above 4' off the ground and soon landed on the neighbors front step. I asked about cats and the woman said there are several cats that roam the community. I know that these birds perched on tree branches and gravel roof tops, so it's behavior didn't cause me too much concern. For the safety of the bird, I gently covered it in a towel, put it in a well-ventilated cardboard box, and went to see Bill at the store.

Soon, we drove to the Navy Stadium to attempt to see if the bird was healthy enough to release. It flew, but not very far and not very high. I decided to recapture the bird and take it to a safer location at dusk for release.

Annapolis High School has big open fields and stadium lights. I met up with Lisa Strobel (of Warren and Lisa BIRDCOUPLE Stobel fame) in the fields behind the school. I figured that if the nighthawk flew, we could watch it hunt in the lights. Also, that is where I've seen COMMON NIGHTHAWKS very recently hunting in flocks at dusk. The lights at the stadium were on and the field nearby was large enough, where, if need be we could recapture the bird and get it help in the morning.

Again, the bird flew. But still, it was not very far and not very high. We walked over to it, and watched until it was just about dark. Still this hawk no desire to fly. There were at least thirty or more Chimney Swifts flitting above, so I knew the bugs were readily available for consumption. The bird did not move.

As I went to gently put a towel over it, figuring that a trip to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark. DE was my Saturday AM plans, the bird flew again. Again, it flew the same distance at the same elevation and then landed. But it was too dark and we could not locate the bird.

I will return tomorrow at daybreak to do some birding and see if this possibly injured bird is still in the field. I'll keep you posted.

Enjoy some photos and have a great weekend!

-Dan





Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Peregrine Falcon Rescue Part II: Window Collision

Before I delve too deep into it, I should tell you that this story has yet to be completely written. At this very moment (4:10pm on Wednesday, September 5th, 2007), a female 1st year Peregrine Falcon that fledged from Virginia is being treated in Newark, DE at Tri State Bird Rescue after flying head first into the side of a glass building in Lanham, MD.

I read about the injured falcon Monday on the MDOsprey listserv. Being an avid falcon rescuer, I sent some emails to those who could help. I figured the bird would soon be safe.

On Tuesday I followed up with Ed, the person who first reported the collision. At first he told me that the banded female Peregrine that hit the building had flown away. The bird was no longer on the roof where he had first spotted it, injured, alive but no longer able to fly. A few minutes later, Ed sent me a follow up email to let me know that the raptor was, in fact, STILL on the roof in the same condition. This email exchange took place late Tuesday evening. The injured falcon had now been there (luckily in the shade) for at least two days.

I quickly started to work the phones and email. This morning, Craig at USFWS rushed over to collect the bird from the building's roof using a ladder. It was a scene, Craig said. The building's employees were everywhere and very interested in the rescue. Craig told me that the bird's wings looked fine, but there was still possible serious head trauma, internal injuries and/or fractures. He also mentioned that the bird was quite dehydrated.

It was shuttled to a waiting transport vehicle and then rushed to the the Tri State facility in Newark.

I am awaiting an update on the health of the bird from Tri-State. I'll let everyone know as soon as I find out. That said, there is more to this story that should be cause for concern. All that and more in, "Peregrine Rescue PART III: Fixing The Building."

In the meantime, visit Tri State's WEBSITE and donate some money today. They need dollars to fix these injured birds. Thanks.

-Dan

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Say's what you will about birding... this weeking was fun!

I am not sure where to begin, so I'll just go chronologically.

I went to Poplar Island with the Anne Arundel Bird Club on Friday. That was a great trip and the island was loaded with birds. It's an incredible project that the State is undertaking. They are using the dredge spoils and rebuilding an entire island. They are restoring both upland (trees and forests) and lowland (marsh and wetland) habitats. Read all about it HERE!

We saw two very nice birds, a Red-necked Phalarope and an American Avocet. I met a lot of fine birders and som very nice folks.

I gave my eyes a rest on Saturday. I spent some time with my lovely Emery. We watched our baby grow in her belly and went sailing with our good friends Josh and Anne on their boat's first (would you believe it) voyage of the summer on the Chesapeake. I saw a Royal Tern while we were out on the bay, along with a plethora of Osprey, DC Cormorant and one Bald Eagle.

But Sunday... Sunday was intense birding. These are the kind of days I love. Up at 5AM, home by 10PM! I arrived to meet Bill Hubick and Tom Feilds in Bowie at 6AM. Emery made us some Blueberry scones. We ate and then drove South to visit the North Beach Marsh. We saw: SNOWY EGRETs (35), SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (2), SOLITARY SANDPIPER (2), SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (8), WESTERN SANDPIPER (1), LEAST SANDPIPER (5), FORSTER'S TERN (10), and ROYAL TERN (1 on the pilings at the beach).

Bill, who is an extrodinary birder and photographer, was leading a tour at Calvert Cliffs later that morning. There we saw: RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (8), RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (3-4), BLACKBURNIAN, NASHVILLE, HOODED, BLACK & WHITE, YELLOW-THROATED, and other warblers, and BROWN PELICAN.The full list (with special thanks to Matt Tillett for keeping notes)
Brown Pelican (1), Double-crested Cormorant, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker (8, including immatures), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch.

When we got to the beach, there was a message on the wire about a very rare visitor in Montgomery County; a Say's Phoebe in a horse field of Hughes Road. So, we made it back to the cars in less than half the time it took us to get to the beach. Aside from a quick stop for gas and sustinance, we made it to the STATE RECORD BIRD in no time at all. Success! A lifer. The huge crowd made the bird very easy to find. I quickly realized that I am not alone with my passion. There are others like me. It was really great to meet the celebrities of Maryland birding. The American Kestrel hunting on the leafless tree was just a bonus that I got to enjoy. (I am a big fan of the falcons!)The rest of the day was spent cruising around Montgomery and Frederick Counties with Bill and Tom.
Polo fields on Hughes Road:
Killdeer and Horned Larks at around 3:00 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m.

Lilypons Water Gardens, Frederick Co.:
Solitary Sandpiper--1
Great Crested Flycatcher--1
White-eyed Vireo--1
Red-eyed Vireo--2
American Redstart--1--a bold looking male!

Greenfield Rd., Frederick Co.:
Eastern Screech-owl--1
Common Nighthawk--flyby at about 5:45 p.m.; nice spot by Tom that I missed!
Warbling Vireo--1
Philadelphia Vireo--1

Hughes Hollow, Montgomery Co (dusk into the night!):
Wood Duck--7
Great Egret--5
Common Nighthawk--1 hunting at dusk
Traill's Flycatcher--1

Emery, despite my arriving home at 10PM instead of 1PM like I had promised, was happy to see me and excited to hear about the day's adventures. It was so thrilling that on Monday, Emery, her sister Eliza and her boy'friend' Chris (who is an avid birder as well) and I went back to Hughes Road and Lily Pons on the way to delightful afternoon spent in Harper's Ferry.

Good Birding!

Dan



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