Now that spring is here…

Spring is here, despite this week’s frost (I’m really happy I didn’t get around to planting last weekend). I love being outdoors, but my work keeps me inside a lot. Now that the days are longer, I have more opportunities to take my kiddo outside exploring. Her favorite thing to do is go “hiking”, which essentially means her getting into this kid-carrying backpack I’ve got and riding on my back for several miles of rail-trail.


She just turned 4, and can reliably identify poison ivy and a number of trees. We’ve picked wild raspberries and mulberries, and have seen snapping turtles nesting. She’s pretty good at naming a few of the more common birds we’ve got around here. The trail we take goes by a heron rookery, which is incredibly cool. But, despite all my outdoors experience, I’ve never been much of a birder, and when she asks, “what’s that bird, Daddy”, my response is often, “a yellow one, honey.”

Not wanting to revel in my own ignorance forever, I was pleased to get a copy of The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by Bill Thompson. I’ve never written a book review, but joining ScienceBlogs has given me early access to a few books here and there. Thanks to GrrlScientist, I got one of these babies.

Now, I’ve tried using bird guides many times, and I’ve finally concluded that they just aren’t my style. I do much better with someone pointing at a bird and saying, “see, that’s a Kirtland’s warbler, and you can tell because etc…”. But my daughter wants to know what the birds we’re seeing are called, and I can only say “robin” and “duck” so many times before she catches on to my ignorance.

This book is aimed at older kids (8-12), but my daughter would never be deterred by such limitations. I’ve never been one to, say, follow directions well, so I pretty much ignored the guide’s helpful hints on how to use the book. My daughter and I just dove right in, looking at pictures and reading the bits on random birds. With a four-year old, discovering that a book has something in it you recognize (like a robin) is exciting. But even more exciting is using a reference as such for the first time in your life.

On a walk the other afternoon, we saw a yellow bird. When I pointed it out to her, she asked, “what’s it called, Daddy?”

I said, “Well, let’s go check our new book.”

As is our habit, we flipped through the pages randomly, looking for a flash of yellow—the book is short enough to allow for that kind of browsing. In no time at all we had learned our first new bird–the yellow throated vireo (I think).

Being able to introduce my daughter to nature and to successfully using a reference guide has been a great deal of fun. The book is really designed for older kids to use on their own, but I think it’s also great for bad birders like myself to use with little kids. They’re too young to know that birding “isn’t cool”, and it’s a great parent-kid activity. Not only that, but I’ve had the book for a while, and the kiddo still wants to thumb through it every night.

On our walk this evening, rather then just “seeing” the trees and ponds, we noticed birds—lots of them. Geese with goslings, red-winged blackbirds, ducks, turkey vultures, and I think some sparrows. A whole new part of nature has opened for us together, and anything that me and my kiddo can do together is fine by me.

Oh, and as our 6th summer after West Nile approaches, it’s nice to see the thoroughly obnoxious blue jays and cranky crows making a comeback.

9 thoughts on “Now that spring is here…”

  1. Spending time with kids and helping them learn about nature is one of the best ways to get them interested in science. I remember catching bugs and worms with a friend when we were kids- he is an anesthesiologist and I am a veterinarian. My daughters are teenagers now, but they still like to get out in the woods and watch birds and wildlife. They got their start riding in the backpack too. Reading this post brought a smile to my face.

  2. …and I think some sparrows.

    I’m not a birder, but I have it on good authority that the technicl term for what you saw is “LBJ”.

  3. Get your daughter a pair of inexpensive binoculars.

    A compact pair of 7 or 8 power with a 20 to 25 mm objective in a reliable but inexpensive brand like Bushnell can be had for about $20. They aren’t going to be real professional grade, precision units but they are great for casual use and kids. I use a pair for hiking through swamps where they they are going to take a beating and may end up lost in the muck.

    While your at it, assuming you don’t have a pair, get one for yourself. These units are pretty rugged and will take a lot of dropping and abuse. At four you might want to bring them out and put them back for her but around 7 or so she can keep them on her own. Boys can’t usually handle the responsibility for a few more years but girls, even at her early age, often can.

    later she can get a professional quality pair if she wants to do a lot of observation.

  4. I noticed the t-shirt in your picture. I hope you’re teaching your daughter as much about Datsyuk and Granderson as you are about ducks and geese!

  5. I’m not a birder, but I have it on good authority that the technicl term for what you saw is “LBJ”.

    Also known as “BBB”.

  6. Another reason I’m glad to live in Florida. My tomatoes are already 8 feet tall and loaded with fruit.

  7. Another reason I’m glad to live in Florida. My tomatoes are already 8 feet tall and loaded with fruit.

    Yeah, but you have Kent Hovind, hurricanes, and Republicans. I’ll live with a limited tomato season in exchange for not having those.

    I recall being much more interested in reptiles at that age, rather than birds. I could catch the snakes, the birds were a bit more difficult.

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