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The Younger Grades at Tomás de Berlanga

2012 July 15
by Seth Inman

Unexplainable hieroglyphs

This past week, apart from being the second session of the Bird Club, I was teaching 1st and 2nd graders English, Science, and Art (e.g. bird names, bird biology, bird crafts). I wasn’t quite prepared for the radical change in behavior between 7th-12th graders and 1st-2nd graders in the classroom, though obviously I expected there would be significant differences.

But when on your first day a group of nineteen 6-year-olds spontaneously and simultaneously burst into a song about a little yellow chick in the palm of their hand while you’re trying to teach the basic body parts of a duck you’ve drawn on the whiteboard, you have a good sign that things are might get tough. If this song includes mention of a hawk, which scares the chicks into hiding under their desks while the chosen bird of prey stalks the room to catch any straying chick-children, then things are already tough and you have to act accordingly.

So I asked them to repeat the song for me while I wrote the first verse on the board, and then translated it into English: “My little yellow chick in the palm of my hand.”

Then I handed the kids a piece of paper each and asked them to write the sentence in English and illustrate it below. Answering affirmatively, as I have with every assignment since that first day, to queries exploring the possibility of filling in the drawings with markers or colored pencils (resulting in more time per drawing and a better-looking picture), I then roamed the much-calmer classroom and supervised the sketching for the rest of the 80-minute period.

Eighty minutes is much too long a time for elementary schoolchildren, I think, given their attention spans. During the course of the week, while I asked students to pick Galápagos bird species to write in English and draw, or reviewed the alphabet with a couple illustrations for each letter (e.g. ‘C’ = cat, cow, car; ‘D’ = duck, dog, and dolphin), I’d receive repeated complaints regarding the amount of writing asked of them (I never got past ‘F’ in the alphabet exercise), as you can see in this video if you understand Spanish. So I tried to time the small art projects between the writing so the kids didn’t get too tired (though I’d assumed the break from using their workbooks in class and at home would be enough), and found that twisting pipe cleaners can be a serious challenge for some. Plaintive pleas for help plagued me the entire period we were making these simple creatures (I quickly helped make most of the feet you see in these pictures), which I had been prepared for by the previous week when I helped Mari’s kindergarteners and pre-kindergarteners to make similar crafts (I haven’t written about that day yet, but there are some photos of their work at the bottom of the post).

The joy with which the students received me every morning, which cries of “Profe Set!” and group hugs about the midriff, as well as the creativity demonstrated during bird illustrations and crafting, made up for the puerile tattle-taling, unabated begging for help that wasn’t truly needed, uncontrolled running around, fake faints with fake CPR aid, crawling accompanied by horse-whinnying, and familiar tales of love, deceit, and death (simplified to five- and six-year old vocabulary). Overall, this was the most tiring week of the five that I have been here so far, but certainly not the least rewarding. I’ll have more on the three bird club meetings later!

Here are the birds the kindergarteners made. Doesn’t the first one look like a Frigatebird? It has the throat pouch and twin tail feathers! Not sure why the wings are on the bottom of the body though…




What Is EECapacity and How Does It Affect Your Community?

2012 July 13
by Marta del Campo

Non-traditional Environmental Educator, birder at heart, and lover of its community. Washington, DC

Urban populations have exploded, making it an enormous challenge to maintain a healthy and clean environment for all. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is, in part, dedicated to training and guiding environmental educators about how to improve the quality of life in communities across the U.S. The goal is to inform people about environmental issues and problems in their community so they can take action to improve the environment for themselves, their families, and their communities.  In many places, EPA environmental education programs have been a complete success. However, it is clear that as urban communities become more diverse, non-traditional, and mobile, fewer people care or pay attention to local environmental issues, or to educational activities to improve their neighborhood.

Community garden in Washington, DC


Through a series of workshops, online courses, professional learning communities, and social networking opportunities, the EECapacity group is bringing established and urban environmental educators together. Participants share information, methods, and resources, forming a support network to improve environmental education in such a way that people want to participate to improve their local environment and have a healthier life.

In May, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the EECapacity workshops in Washington, DC. Participants came from across the U.S. and Mexico to share their experiences, ideas, and educational methods for reaching even the most diverse communities. One of the most beautiful experiences was the opportunity to meet with several of our Celebrate Urban Birds partners. Some of them came from far-away states, others from Mexico, but all with the will to help improve the environment as part of the EECapacity network. It was wonderful to learn about their experiences, and how birds help people in their communities to care about nature, birds, and their neighborhoods.


2-day accumulation of garbage in bandalong trash trap in local stream. Washington, DC.

It was wonderful to see other workshop participants become interested in Celebrate Urban Birds. Many were interested in learning how the project helps birds and how, by an indirect and unconventional route, it educates and promotes interest in caring for local habitat, birds, and the community as a whole. To us, it was also very interesting to learn about other organizations participating, and about innovative projects people are working on all over the country to connect communities to their local environment.

One of the five days in the workshop was dedicated to touring the DC area. We saw marvelous green areas around the capital and some of the community projects focused on developing more environmentally friendly neighborhoods. These projects were in areas of the city which have been difficult to reach with traditional environmental education methods. In part, the dream in these communities is to blend nature with city life and get people to care about nature in an urban community context. We saw people cleaning streams and parks, greening the open abandoned spaces, planting with their families, friends, and neighbors at schools, around corners, at their homes, and many other places.

Visiting these local communities was really inspiring! People really seemed to care and have hope. Get inspired to do some greening of your own with loved ones and people you know in your community. As a result, you may see more birds, flowers, and smiling neighbors. Take care of your neighborhood. You do not need much money or time to improve your surroundings, and enjoy your community.

If you’d  like to learn more about EECapacity, click here.

If you would like  to find groups or organizations engaged through EECapacity that could help you to green and improve your neighborhood, click here.

If you are looking for materials and resources to share with your community with a vision for a more environmentally and friendly  neighborhood, click here.

Bird Club

2012 July 10
by Seth Inman

For the past two weeks I’ve been planning my bird-related extracurricular activity at Tomás de Berlanga, the school where I’m on my fourth full week of volunteering English substitute teaching for grades 1, 2, and 7-12 (1st and 2nd graders are taught English as a class, and the older students are classified based on skill level—I taught Intermediate for a week and Advanced for two weeks).

I decided on a weekly 2-hour (4-6PM) meeting of what we’d call the “Club de Aves,” the Bird Club, and I sent a small paper invitation and permission sheet home with students of 2nd grade and up. About 50 students brought back responses allowing them to participate, and a dozen or so slips denying permission because the student was otherwise engaged after school (Santa Cruz has a great cycling team that is quite competitive on a national level). Given this unexpectedly high number, I had to supplement my planned Thursday and Friday groups with a Wednesday one: about twenty 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders for Wednesday; thirteen 5th and 6th graders for Thursday; and eighteen 7th-12th graders for Friday.

Frigatebirds in Puerto Ayora

Last week was the first meeting for all three groups, and I was fairly pleased with the results. Eleven, seventeen, and eight students arrived on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, respectively, which were not only very good attendance rates for Santa Cruz activities (I’m told) but also more manageable group sizes than full potential (with the exception of the 5th and 6th graders, who were often out of control due to a core group of young boys). We did the same route through Puerto Ayora for each day, starting out on a similar path as I did with some of my English class students several weeks ago. We start at the main pier, in San Francisco Park, and walk down Charles Darwin Ave. next door to the Navy, where there is a clump of cactus with a nest and many Small Ground Finches and Cactus Finches hopping around. From there, we keep walking down to the Artisans’ Wharf, where there is a more concentrated group of cacti with three nests in interesting orientations on the prickly pear structures (pictures to be included later). Next is the plank walkway that provides a great view of the Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as the Brown Pelicans and Lava Herons that rest or live in the mangroves surrounding the walkway. I took the two videos embedded in this post in the free half hour I have before the Bird Club meeting, because I enjoy scouting out what we should be able to see and prefer not to have my camera out while with the students. In the first video, I attempt to follow several Frigatebirds as they swoop around, and the second also includes a couple Lava Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Blue-footed Boobies (with a sea lion cameo).

When we get to this part of the walk, which was always the most fruitful for the three groups (on Friday we even saw an Elliot’s Storm-petrel trying to find good water to pitter-patter on right in front of the plank walkway*), I ask the students to help identify the Frigates as male or female and adult or juvenile—as well as the species where possible. The Brown Pelicans can also be aged easily (based on the coloration of their heads and necks: white crown and brown, velvety neck means adulthood, while gray signifies immaturity), as well as the pair of Blue-footed Boobies in the second video.

Fisherman’s Wharf Birds

After the Fisherman’s Wharf, we cut through the town towards the entrance to Tortuga Bay, which is right at the western border with the National Park. Quite a few Galápagos Mockingbirds, Small Ground and Tree Finches, and Yellow Warblers are commonly seen there; I’ve experienced a surprising ease of Galápagos (or Large-billed) Flycatcher sightings as well. The only Galápagos Dove I’ve witnessed so far was right around there, but not with the students. The advantage of ending at the entrance to Tortuga Bay is that it is significantly uphill from the town, and there is a balcony above the guardhouse/snack-shop building that provides a perfect view of all of Puerto Ayora. Although 5:30 to 5:50PM is a bit early for the full potential of Cattle Egret flocks, we can still see a few small groups flying home for the night (I’m not sure where they go, but they fly from upland north to the shore at the south and then cut west, I think). If one were to wait till 6:30, the sunset would be running down and flocks of 20-30 Cattle Egrets could be seen over the town—I have a video that I’ll post later that shows a brief sample of this beauty as seen from below.

* Here’s some good photos I found by chance on Google of a storm-petrel doing its thing.