by Denny Olson

It has been an unforgettable year. The uncertainty of COVID and all of its variants has us all wishing for personal contact, more mobility and that calming feeling of being safe from invisible and unpredictable forces. It doesn’t help that, just when we are seeing a glimmer of light on the horizon, the virus reminds us that it doesn’t care, and it morphs yet again.

My job as Flathead Audubon Conservation Educator has been about extolling the virtues and value of birds, and in the past, that has been heavy on person-to-person presentations, coordinating our fourteen learning trunks, shepherding a small group of volunteer ambassadors, and constantly looking for better ways to communicate all of the above. So, I have had to suspend most of those efforts, and as I’ve said before, make lemonade from the pandemic lemons.

So here are the jugs of “lemonade”:

Laura Katzman from the Flathead Land Trust and I — with some help from Chris Hammond of MT FWP until he changed his role there through a promotion – have been working to keep alive our 7th-grade Bird Education sequence. We picked seventh grade because what we envision fits perfectly with the Montana Life Science Standards expected of our public schools. We are mostly piloting it through Vic Dalla Betta’s classes at Evergreen Middle School, and despite COVID wrenches being systematically tossed into the gears, it is still going after a fashion.

The sequence we envision consists of activities leading to four field trips by teachers, students and FAS volunteers. The focus is on (1) West Valley Ponds and the spectacular Sandhill Crane stopover there in October, (2) the winter invasion of raptors from the north, both in West and Lower Valleys, (3) the massive waterfowl migrations in early spring on the Lower Flathead River system, and (4) the raucous songbird and Osprey breeding season in our river-bottom corridors right next to us.

In our ultimate vision, they start with an in-person program by one of us, along with fun in-classroom activities like the “Jeop-birdy” contest Laura invented. Then we hope to have a learning trunk that is specific to prep for each of the four field trips. We have a Sandhill Crane trunk now, along with a narrated PowerPoint program available on our YouTube site. I have PowerPoint programs that I can do in-person on Winter Birds of Prey and Waterfowl of the Flathead Valley. I would like to turn those into narrated videos so there is flexibility to do them in-class at any time. I also have a narrated video workshop on Learning Bird Songs on our YouTube site, which can help students and teachers do a simple river-bottom breeding bird survey on our Owen Sowerwine Natural Area (OSNA) Education Trail.

Still in progress, or just in theory for now, are learning trunks for winter birds of prey (not started), an early spring waterfowl trunk (which we may be able to borrow from other organizations) and an Osprey Trunk that I will have ready for the Ospreys returning this spring to OSNA.

As part of my necessary pandemic adaptations to going “virtual”, I produced videos on the value of birds (“Birds Rock!”), the present concerns about bird populations and their future prospects (Bird Trouble”, which also addresses the sad condition of our cultural illiteracy on science and good evidence), and an empowering video on what we all can do to remedy bird trouble called “Bird Help”.

The next video in editing production, with final shooting to do in the spring, will be “Natives Rule!” — about the intricate relationships between native plants, native insects and native birds. After that, BJ Worth (whose Birds in Motion videos are spectacular!) and I are planning to combine efforts on a promotional and educational video on our 15-year-so-far Jewel Basin Hawk Watch program.

That’s a summary of the “lemonade” brewed so far. But elsewhere in this Post, check out our plans for educational research projects in OSNA! (And, I miss you all, and can’t wait to entertain you at real meetings with some Bird-brain fun!)