Kids spread their wings at Rogue Valley Bird Day
For 5-year-old Athena Ousley, a kids’ bird calling contest was anything but impromptu.
The Ashland preschooler spent the last three months honing her collared dove call, along with her chickadee call, according to mom Kailey Ousley.
“She couldn’t decide, so she’s doing two,” Kailey Ousley said, adding that every time her daughter hears a bird call she tries to imitate it, saying, “Maybe next year.”
Athena was hardly the only young avian aficionado who flocked to Ashland’s North Mountain Nature Center Saturday morning for the 16th annual Rogue Valley Bird Day, an all-ages celebration of bird habitats and conservation that’s part of World Migratory Bird Day events around the globe. Another apparent ornithologist prodigy was Oliver Naymik, 9, a fourth-grader at Bellview Elementary.
About eight children performed bird calls into a microphone during the contest, but Oliver and Athena were among the few children who also aced a quiz identifying their black-capped chickadees from their mallard ducks.
Athena beamed at the stuffed pelican puppet she won, showing off the little stuffed fish that came with it.
Oliver had no trouble keeping up with Klamath Bird Observatory board president Shannon Rio during her guided bird walk at the park.
As Rio listened closely, then repeated the audible “hoo hoo hoo” call between the nature center and the adjacent ball field, Oliver was right on her wavelength. Most untrained ears would guess they heard an owl, but Oliver guessed a mourning dove.
“You’re so smart,” Rio said, snapping her fingers. “Collared dove — but you were close!”
For Oliver, the highlight of his bird walk was spotting the bright orange of a Bullock’s oriole in a tree. The migratory bird comes here from Mexico to roost, and typically flies south by August, Rio said.
Oliver said he likes to read about birds and has been paying attention to them since he was about 4, or “ever since I could tell.”
His grandmother, Sue Naymik, said Oliver picked up the passion from his grandparents more than his parents.
“I think it skipped a generation,” Sue Naymik said.
Owing to clear, sunny skies and a flourishing ecosystem all around them, scores of people scoped out sample nests or played a chance game in which kids took the role of migratory birds trying to avoid pollution.
Rogue Valley Audubon Society president Carol Mockridge said the strong turnout reflects locals’ growing interest in birding through the efforts of the nature center and partner organizations such as Klamath Bird Observatory.
“Lots of kids — which is the future for our birds,” Mockridge said.
Much of that enthusiasm is volunteer driven, according to Nature Center manager Libby VanWyhe and coordinator Jen Aguayo. In 2018, 495 volunteers logged 3,869 hours at the center.
“We only have, like, three staff,” Aguayo said. “They make it such a vibrant community.”
Rio said Southern Oregon has a rare biodiversity that makes “every day” the best day to go birdwatching. She encouraged an exploratory mindset for new birdwatchers. Even with years teaching classes under her belt and a lifetime interest in the hobby, she still “guesses wrong” sometimes.
“I think it’s more fun to learn than to know,” Rio said.