Today, for the first time in my life, I volunteered to take an hour bus ride with 27 fifth graders on a field trip. I was doing it for my own selfish reasons, however. After all, we were going to Hawk Ridge, a nationally known birding area that, although it is so close, I had never visited during fall migration.
The good folks at Hawk Ridge have a program where they come to fourth grade classes in the spring and give talks about raptors, usually showing a captive owl or two. Then in the fall, they invite the fifth grade classes, all expenses paid, to come to Hawk Ridge to see migrating raptors and hopefully, get to see a banded one being released.
We got really lucky. We got to see not one, but two juvenile sharp shinned hawks, about the size of blue jays, be released after banding. One lucky girl from the class got to hold the first hawk and release it. The look on her face was precious.
Isn't that bird just a beauty? Those talons, that look in its eyes. I had only seen one or two sharp shinned hawks in my life, so this was a real treat.
The funny thing was, they keep the birds in a cylindrical container after banding to keep them calm. The cylindrical container this bird was held in was...
...two very old STEEL beer cans, Red White and Blue brand, duct taped together!
Both hawks flew away rapidly, apparently glad to flee their recycled confines.
During the course of the class, I kept scanning the skies with my binoculars and was amazed at how many hawks appeared, soaring, riding the thermals. I could hardly tell species, even with binoculars, but there were quite a few accipiters, probably mostly sharp shinned hawks judging by size, and a few buteos. I did learn a bit about how to identify groups of hawks by their flight patterns, and also how they managed to count individual hawks flying over. Apparently there is one narrow point where they leave the thermals, and at this point they fly by in almost a straight line, so individuals can be counted, and presumably identified by experts.
And I kept looking over Lake Superior. The sky was cloudy, and the lake a steel blue gray in sharp contrast to the warm fall colors around the shore. It was beautiful, but as I got my camera out to take a picture, I got the dreaded "replace batteries NOW" message. My replacement batteries, which I had grabbed off my desk at work without testing, did not work either. Rats.
All in all, I thought it was a great field trip and a wonderful opportunity for the kids. But...I was the only parent who went along. I thought other, more normal parents went on class field trips all the time. Was I wrong in that assumption, or do most parents simply not care about anything to do with nature?