by Denny Olson

At my house, during this tumultuous year, unlike anything any of us has seen before, prompted a good-natured by-word that has been used for a lot of laughs at bizarre and sometimes semi-tragic times. “What NOW?” There have been many adaptations to life in general, and with most everyone sequestered, we at FAS have had to ask ourselves that same rhetorical question, and come up with answers.

At the beginning of the last school year, Laura Katzman with Flathead Land Trust, Chris Hammond from MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and myself (with a little field trip help from our own Jake Bramante) piloted the seventh-grade Bird Education sequence with three school programs and three subsequent field trips. We concentrated on Sandhill Cranes and the West Valley stopover area in the fall, winter birds of prey, and spring waterfowl migration. FAS completed the construction of  Sandhill Crane and Common Birds of the Flathead educational trunks.

I also coordinated a full-day work session on upgrading the existing 12 trunks with the help of our Ambassador volunteers. In Owen Sowerwine Natural Area, I wrote a self-guided one-mile educational trail, completed by volunteers, with 65 trail-marker stops and an 8-page guide to the trail.

Meanwhile, Suzy Waldron, graphic artist extraordinaire, and myself were plugging away at content and artwork for two large vertical display banners for our events on “Why birds Matter” and “Why Birds Rock, which we finished in the summer — ironically about when person-to-person events were fading into the COVID sunset. It was OK, We knew the banners would be around for years, whereas the pandemic would not.

Work was ongoing for completion of a 15-minute “Birds Rock!” video, a light-hearted view of why birds are critical to human survival. We had no idea at the time how important that “remote” and digital approach to our mission was going to be when we could not work face-to-face. Two Christmas Bird Counts in Bigfork and Kalispell areas, a monthly 600-word column in the Pileated Post Newsletter, completion of another overflow 6-week FVCC Senior Institute course on “Birds of Northwest Montana” all progressed normally into March. I also was MC and Judge for the Flathead County Science Fair and presented two Audubon awards to students at the ceremony. We were in the middle of a 48-day stretch of daily 4-part “Bird Trivia” quizzes through the FAS website and Facebook site toward the end of March, which also fit the “remote’ needs nicely.

All of these efforts proved to be serendipitous. In early May, Board, Committees and staff had a planning and re-tooling session that set a course through a sequestered and quarantined world of unknown duration. I still managed to do 14 in-person (distanced and masked) programs for schools, teachers and state park attendees. We realized that the popularity of “Birds Rock!” presented an opportunity to plug a full-sequence learning process into our School Bird Education Program by creating follow-up  videos on “Bird Trouble” (past 30% bird population declines and how climate will affect them during the rest of this century), and also a third, upbeat video, “Bird Help”, empowering our audience to mitigate the bird trouble with personal efforts in their own homes and circles. “Bird Trouble” was completed in November, and “Bird Help” will be done within a few days of you reading this.

Because our major autumn event at Lone Pine State Park was not possible (we averaged 800 participants the last few years), we did a week-long series of smaller group and remote workshop activities, with some help from Wild Wings Rehabilitation Center and Montana Audubon. One of those activities began with me drawing, painting and laminating 27 full-sized silhouettes of birds in flight for a course preparing citizens to help with our Jewel Basin Hawk Watch counts (this was our 14th year!). They proved popular enough that they now hang in the Lone Pine State Park Visitor Center classroom as a semi-permanent display. We created a self-guided process and “key” for learning and practice, hopefully recruiting new citizen scientists “remotely”. MT FWP liked our vertical educational banners enough to display them indefinitely in the same class and meeting room. (Go see them!)

Our wonderful FAS Education Committee and Volunteers is busy digitizing all of our 14 educational trunks to make them much more accessible to teacher s doing remote teaching.

After the 3-video sequence is completed and properly promoted, I will be working to make all of my in-person PowerPoints audio-narrated and self-standing for classroom use. And, hopefully, we will be transitioning back to whatever “normal” resembles in 2021 — but with new tools and products that will continue help us educate about birds.

These adaptations to the “year from hell” as some have described it, will be useful far beyond the pandemic. As is our style, we made lemonade. We hope you like it.