Skip to content

Mini-grant Highlight: Sunshine Arts

2013 July 26
by Seth Inman
Sunshine Arts student Daaz displaying the art he created with the help of volunteer instructor Robert Bohne.

Sunshine Arts student Daaz displaying the art he created with the help of volunteer instructor Robert Bohne.

The Sunshine Arts group in Upper Darby, PA is dedicated to promoting community and empowering children with creative outlets by teaching arts, music, dance, and nature skills. This year, in part with support from one of our mini-grants, Sunshine Arts has continued their tradition of outdoor appreciation by taking students birdwatching and teaching them how to paint using watercolors and other media, as well as emphasizing their role as stewards in maintaining the local environment by planting bird-friendly plants, clearing weeds, and creating better habitat for wildlife in the Sunshine Arts garden.

Resident artist and filmmaker Kat Lehmer will create a short documentary feature that will later be displayed on the Sunshine Arts website, and recently created a wonderful update on what’s going on at Sunshine Arts through this video. The students themselves will also begin work on a humorous bird-themed video as part of their film class.

Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind

2013 July 17
by Seth Inman and Emma Wing, Marta del Campo

opportunities-unlimited-for-the-blind-banner_mini-grant-eventWe all know that the world has turned upside down.  The climate is mess, and life in the city is accompanied by its usual plethora of challenges.  Nevertheless, wonderful things keep happening just around the corner!  It’s true, and none prove it better than a group of young people in Michigan who are teaching a valuable lesson to all who choose to stay indoors and miss the chance for a walk outside. The group’s participants see very little or not at all, but with the support of the organization Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, these young people have become excellent at identifying local birds and taking pleasure in nature and the outdoors.

Image from CBS news report, courtesy of  University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Image from CBS news report, courtesy of University of Michigan-Dearborn.

At first glance, it seemed like a huge challenge for these youths to accurately identify the beautiful birds that flutter around their neighborhoods and green areas, near their houses and towns, or simply from their patios and balconies.  However, I quickly discovered that I was completely mistaken.  They have a skill that gives them an enormous advantage when trying to identify birds outside.  With exceptionally sensitive hearing, they have the amazing ability to individuate sounds amidst the everyday commotion of the city.  This provides them with the natural and privileged tool of identifying birds just by hearing them, even when they sing in unison in the forest or when their songs are fused with the incessant noise of the engines and horns of the city.

Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind has an organized group of young people called Birdbrains.  This diverse group is comprised of blind and low-vision youths who have learned to identify and enjoy Michigan’s birds by listening to them.  But how did they learn?  The leader of the group is Donna Posont.  She has done an extraordinary job.  She has obtained support materials, arranged for transportation, and taken care of every detail to assist the Birdbrains with their learning and development through the appreciation of nature and its birds.  Among many other efforts, Donna Posont applied for our 2013 Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grant.  She also requested support material from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.  It isn’t surprising that they won our mini-grant as well as the support of the personnel of the Library of Natural Sounds and the use of their audio materials.

Youth were able to learn about bird songs and calls thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, which sent Donna sounds for local urban birds; in addition Celebrate Urban Birds staff created CDs of the focal species songs and calls of the project. Guided by their leader, they first learned to recognize the song and/or call of some common birds in the area, including our project’s focal birds.  Then, full of the desire to apply what they learned, they took to the trails in the University of Michigan’s nature areas where they delighted in identifying the songs of the birds flying around.  It was amazing!  CBS did a story on them, and you can watch the report here. The news group also ran an evening news piece that focused more on the Macaulay side of things, available here. Donna was also interviewed by Michigan Public Radio! You can listen to the radio interview by clicking on the radio logo below. michigan radio

In addition to enjoying the local birds outside and taking great pride in their unique way of identifying them, the group learned much more about birds and their connection with nature.  For example, they learned about the parts of the body of these flying and feathered creatures.  They learned about their connection to plants such as sunflowers, that when left to dry, offer nutritious seeds to the birds, and insects like caterpillars that become a nutrient-rich delicacy for growing chicks.  The group also learned about individual adaptations of certain species, such as the shape of their beaks, which allows them to better utilize their food sources.  The young people also loved discovering why it is important for scientists to band birds with a unique identification number, and how this helps them better understand the bird’s health and migration. All this new information and the pleasure of the outdoors was of course a great source of artistic inspiration for these young people.  So they created beautiful nests from materials gathered outside, such as straw and sticks, in addition to art supplies like glue and pieces of cardboard.  They also made bird feeders and installed them to help local birds throughout the year.

Donna Posont

Donna Posont

In an interview Donna Posont told CBS, “My whole idea is getting them outside enjoying nature, listening to the birds and caring about them, so they care enough to make a difference in the world.” Now, reader, you have no excuse!  Be inspired by this beautiful story, by this admirable group of young people, who has come out to enjoy the breeze, the mysterious odors and various green areas, and most of all, the cheerful chirping of wild birds, which they can now name just by listening to their songs or calls.  I invite you to go for a walk and appreciate small urban birds in your environment.  It’s easy!  And if you’re not quite sure at first what birds you see, look around, venture out, and enjoy the outdoors.  Nature and birds are available to everyone, you just have to explore outside and look up from the mundane to discover them.  Here’s to many wonderful journeys!

To learn more about Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, or see how you can help out, visit their website!

Mini-grant Highlight: Santa Cruz Texmalaquilla

2013 July 15
by Seth Inman

In the Mexican town of Santa Cruz Texmalaquilla, a community of around 1,000 inhabitants at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (~3100m) above sea level, the local elementary school enjoyed a Celebrate Birds Month through portions of May and June this year. Twenty-four members of the EcoClub participated in a series of activities designed to teach about birds and how to live more sustainably, and the roughly two-hundred students in the school all joined in for a bird art contest. Contestants had to draw a Mexican bird, and three winners in every grade (1-6) received a cloth drawstring backpack, the CUBs packet of bird posters and seeds, and colored pencils. The 1st prize winners in every class also received a bird feeder and seeds.

Over the course of Celebrate Birds Month, students learned about the parts of a bird by labeling a bird, filling in the bird-coloring pages of in a book of local birds, and creating birds from paper plates. Excited students learned how to identify birds, use binoculars, and use a bird guide as the group went out on the school grounds to find local birds and complete a 10-minute bird count. Nicole Gilbert, one of the event planners (who also provided us with these photos), told us that, “Having a day with amazing resources, information, and activities showing them the amazing bird life around them would be and mean a lot to the children and families of this town. I and Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics really want to open the eyes of the residence to the beauty around them.” Once the events were completed, she reported that “The kids in the EcoClub were so excited throughout all of the activities and are asking when we are going to go birding again!”

Activities also included creating bird feeders from plastic bottles, planting bird-friendly plants, and matching cards displaying different types of bird beaks with appropriate food items. Students were excited to be able to identify birds like local House Sparrows on their own from their guidebooks and record the data on their sheets, while learning about the benefits and joys of citizen science, and hopefully better appreciating the natural resources in their surrounding environment.