Denny Olson

by Denny Olson

By the time you read this, Beauty of Birds Class at Flathead High School will be wrapping up, Earth Day Celebration in Whitefish will be over, the Arbor Day Education Day for area 3rd-graders with tree plantings at Kidsport may be done and we will be looking forward to Family Forestry Expo Day on the 6th of May. Ah, spring in the Flathead!

In case you hadn’t noticed, the FAS Board (and interested others) are constantly “volunteers extraordinaire” – and their energy, help and belief in our free-of-charge education program inspires me every single day. Bob Lee, Leslie Kehoe, Kari Gabriel, Lana and Joe Batts, Kathy Ross, Barbara Summer, and Gail Linne – thank you for being wonderful teachers on just the spring events. Couldn’t have done it without you! Here’s what is still coming:

The “Language of Birds” One-day Workshop
May 13, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Kalispell Montessori School and Owen Sowerwine Natural Area

In keeping with our efforts to partner with other conservation and education organizations when it works better that way, Flathead Audubon and Ravenwood Outdoor Learning Center are hosting and teaching a FREE full-day outdoor experience on the “Language of Birds”. This workshop is not to be confused with only “birding by ear” (identifying birds by their songs and calls), although that may be a part of the day’s process.

In the woods, birds miss nothing! Their survival depends on that. Their vision and hearing are beyond our understanding. Their language – both between species and among their own – is complex, sophisticated and effective. Best of all, the patterns of their songs and calls can tell stories as they happen, and it only takes some patience and sensory awareness to understand what is going on in the woods – beyond what we can usually observe through our binoculars. When a chickadee sees a weasel, the pattern of its alarm calls can tell us how close it is, when it enters a chipmunk tunnel, when it emerges, and when it moves out of the chickadee’s danger zone. There are hundreds of stories like this happening, sometimes simultaneously, every hour and day in the wild.

Bruce Tannehill, our own bird song recorder, bird song CD author and expert on the science of bird song, will present on the complexity, variety and detail in bird language. And true to Audubon tradition, will teach us some of the “who’s who” out there.

I was born with a (so-far) non-lethal mutation. I can mimic quite a few bird songs. (My voice changed at puberty, I guess.) I will teach some strategies for learning songs and calls, and help participants begin to learn the differences between the sounds of a single bird. I can also talk back to birds, because of that mutation, but I’ll share with the group about when it is appropriate to do that, and when it is not in the birds’ best interest to talk to them. (You have to know what you are saying, for example.)

Jennifer Bresee and Brett Holmquist have both studied under a well-known expert on the language of birds, Jon Young.  Jen and Brett will acquaint us with the special techniques of becoming “invisible” (or at least “not scary”) in the woods, so the stories that birds tell can unfold around us.

From there, we will be practicing what we preach. The four of us will each take a small group to a different spot in OSNA, sit quietly, let the birds and other residents acclimate to our presence, take some notes and do some mapping of “the events of the day”. We will be practicing “hyper-observation”, and also getting some peaceful quiet time in a beautiful area. We will be concentrating less on the “who” of bird sounds, and more on the “what’s happening” – the stories being described by birds.

This will be a grand start to a new way of appreciating birds, and it will enrich your appreciation for our feathered friends and confidants! Please join us — and dress for outside!

TO REGISTER: Contact or go to  >  FAQ  >  How to Register.  Look for the May 13th Language of Birds class at Owen Sowerwine Natural Area.

International Migratory Bird Day Celebration

May 25, Salish Kootenai College

FAS will have a booth with family activities (some from our new Riparian Wetlands: Birds and the River educational trunk – see article elsewhere in this newsletter) at the IMBD celebration in Pablo MT at Salish-Kootenai College on May 25th. Between autumn Hawkwatch on the Aeneas Ridge and the corridor along the Flathead River, we are a migration hot-spot! Come join us at a wonderful bird festival .