DIY binoculars help young Highland Park bird watchers focus on nature

Young bird watchers use paper handmade binoculars | Martha Benedict


HIGHLAND PARK — “Let’s go to the Secret Forest!” pleaded members of the Nature Club at San Pascual STEAM Magnet Elementary. They pointed to a cropping of trees on the western side of the Highland Park campus, where tall oaks, pines and eucalyptus present a shady spot for students during recess – and a perfect place for various birds to perch. Before heading outdoors, however, the students made binoculars out of paper tubes to more easily observe the schoolyard birds.

The after school crowd was getting its feet wet for the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) that takes Feb. 17-Feb. 20.  The handmade binoculars created by the young ornithologists will help introduce them to the techniques needed for the actual count, when they will use real binoculars to record observations.

Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, with the results analyzed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This year, San Pascual will add its name to the list of birdwatching groups.  Locally,  the Audubon Center at Debs Park is hosting a free GBBC event on Feb. 18 from 8-11:30 am.

Back near the Secret Forest, teaching aide Ximena Gil gave the students a brief tutorial in binocular basics. “First find the bird with your eye and then point at it with your finger, then slowly bring the binoculars to your face,” she said. Students discovered that even though their handmade tube binoculars didn’t magnify distances, it allowed them to focus on specific areas to find that ruffle of a feather or discover a bird on a branch.

Serious but enthusiastic, students continued the search, scanning the skies, telephone poles and treetops for a glimpse of wings. “I just heard something!” a student announced. “I see a flock of birds!” another exclaimed as a group of crows flew overhead in formation.

Student Tatiana assumed the “text-pert” duties and captured the observations on an iPad; she stuck close to Sharon Nakata, Resource Specialist Teacher and faculty leader for the Nature Club. Nakata is pleased this group is fired up about birds and being a part of the GBBC.

“We have so many birds here at our school, it’s amazing,” she says. “If we walk around the campus, I can point out specific territories, places we usually see certain birds.”

Indeed, the acorn woodpeckers favor a tall tree near the front entrance; a hummingbird has nested in a pine tree near the play structure. Red-tail hawks can be seen at certain times of the morning, drafting on air currents. Once, a turkey vulture landed on the campus near a stairwell, which caused excitement among students and faculty. Parrots, snowy egrets, mourning doves, sparrows … the list goes on.

“Students have been talking about the count for weeks now and they are ready,” sums up Nakata, adding that she hopes their excitement for birding will inspire their family and friends to join the citizen science project. “It can be just as simple as sitting in your own backyard and counting birds for a few minutes,” she says.

The 20th annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017. Visit birdcount.org for more information.

Students assemble their paper binoculars | Martha Benedict

Recording observations on a tablet computer | Martha Benedict

Bird watching is always more fun with friends | Martha Benedict

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  1. Yay, San Pascual! This school is terrific, a real hidden treasure, and it’s wonderful to see its great people and one of its programs getting some attention.

    That dynamic and effective woman who’s riding herd on these young birders is Sharon Nakata, not Nakato.

  2. Loved this story! Also the photos. Let’s hear more of the positive things going on in our neighborhoods, please.

  3. Wonderful story, thanks Eastsider! We live in Echo Park and one of our commonest backyard birds is the House Finch. This time of year the males turn beautiful shades of red on various parts of their heads and bodies. We have many types of pert Sparrows, lots of Doves, occasional Bluejays, and a rare small Hawk of which I have gorgeous pictures, sitting right outside my window! We also see larger beautiful Hawks in flight, two or more at a time, Crows, our Echo Park Parrots, and what I think, from a distance, are flocks of Seagulls to the northeast.

    We feed them in terrific feeders that resist our resident squirrels, having seed delivered from Amazon. The squirrels do join the ground birds, and especially like the sunflower seeds that fall. I would like very much to hear about the birds seen by others here in East Los Angeles.

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