By Denny Olson

An enterprising climatologist once calculated the rate of spring’s advance to the north. It averages a half-mile per hour, or twelve miles per day – not supersonic, but not glacial either. In fact, it’s an easy walking speed. The roller-coaster fits and starts of that long transition can be frustrating after a 65-degree day or two. Snow and howling wind? Yup. Spring in the Flathead.

The long cabin-fever winter of the pandemic has started its “spring breakup”, with vaccinations, economic help and a renewed sense of optimism. The timing is still up in the air, with fits and starts in pandemic politics and histrionics blared at us almost hourly. But like spring, it is proving to be inevitable. Our transitions at FAS are happening in the same way — we don’t know exactly when, but we do know “what”.

The next fiscal year for Flathead Audubon Education appears to be transitional from remote-learning emphasis to in-person teaching and learning. As luck would have it, many of the remote tools we produced in the age of COVID promise to be very helpful in the transitional efforts.

In the three months prior to FY 21-22 we plan to complete narrated videos of what were previously PowerPoint presentations. Those will include “Bird Brains” on bird intelligence, “Migration Magic”, “Flathead Spring Waterfowl”, “Best Flathead (strange but true) Bird Stories” and “Flathead Feeder Birds Natural History”.

Thereafter, we will produce a video about the complex interrelationships between native plants, native insects and native birds, with specific information on re-converting to natives on private yards and public lands. It will be lighthearted and co-narrated by Prof. Avian Guano (Denny Olson) and local expert Kathy Ross.

Then, in the coming school year, we will be (finally!) promoting and implementing our 7th-grade Life Science Bird Education Sequence (co-sponsored by Flathead Land Trust and co-taught by Laura Katzman from the Trust). We piloted an abbreviated version of the program with Evergreen Middle School the last two years, and now we are recruiting other Flathead Valley schools, offering many useful tools we have produced during the pandemic, and since the pilot.

Teachers will be able to choose from the following list of options.

  1. An early autumn sequence on Sandhill Cranes, with optional classroom presentations, a “Sandhill Cranes; Voices from the Eocene” introductory video, a loaned Crane Educational Trunk with many activities across disciplines, culminating with a guided field trip to view migrating cranes.
  2. A winter sequence on Winter Birds of Prey, with classroom presentations, Jeop-birdy games, a PowerPoint/video, and a winter bus trip to the West or Lower Valley to view the many wintering raptors.
  3. An early spring sequence on Migrating Waterfowl, with classroom presentations, a narrated PowerPoint/video, a Ducks Unlimited educational trunk, and a swans and ducks field trip to view various migration stopover rivers and sloughs in the Lower Valley area.
  4. A late spring sequence on Breeding Birds, with forest and river-bottom birds classroom presentations, an Osprey educational trunk, A Learning Bird Songs video and workshop, a field trip to the Flathead Audubon Owen Sowerwine Natural Area Education Trail, and possible breeding bird surveys with the older students.

The program fits perfectly with Montana 7th-grade Life Science Standards, and options for formative and summative assessments will also be available for the above sequences. 

Because we can now be much less concerned about “contaminated surfaces”, we will continue to offer free loan of 15 Educational Trunks with assistance by Flathead Audubon Ambassadors, classroom presentations and field trips by request,  public field trips, the September Birds of Prey Festival at Lone Pine State Park, and an array of traditional FAS programming and publications.

2021 and 2022 promise to be the “back in business” years, for FAS as well!