“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”
– W. J. Cameron
Grab your bins & get ready for the Christmas Bird Count!
Families can get a lot out of watching a birdfeeder, suggests Mark DeDea, president of the John Burroughs Natural History Society but probably best known as the friendly, familiar presence as caretaker at Forsyth Nature Center, often referring to himself as Mark at the Park.
“You’ll be able to view these birds from pretty close range and for extended periods of time, all from the comfort of your warm home. You will start to notice and retain things like the way certain species are foraging, flying or even vocalizing.”
My kids like to check the bird chart that we keep near the feeder window, but Mark invites viewers to observe even more: “The practice of learning the GISS [General Impression of Shape and Size: borrowed English expression from identifying German planes during World War II] of the bird almost happens naturally. Challenge yourself with distinguishing the subtleties of certain sparrow species’ markings, or different bill structures of finches. This winter training will allow a novice to get to an identification more rapidly, and this experience will serve the new birder well the following spring when we would discourage constant referral to a field guide while birding – rather soaking up the greater species diversity.”
Some folks are looking for gift ideas. One of Mark’s tips is to get the best binoculars (“bins”) that you can: “Do some research, ask a lot of questions, [save your money] and then spend as much as you are comfortable with on binoculars. This is your most important tool, and if hooked, will be used daily and serve as your trusted companion. A good pair of bins will be cherished and only add to the enjoyment of birding. Purchasing an inexpensive pair will lead to regrets and frustration and ultimately buying a better pair – or in some cases, just abandoning the hobby.”
How about ideas on what it is we’re actually looking at? Mark advises, “Utilize free resources like www.allaboutbirds.org or www.ebird.org, and purchase a good field guide [I recommend the National Audubon Society’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America] so that you are acquainted with local bird life.” But he encourages us to keep our sights lifted up: “Try to avoid keeping your nose in the book while you are in the field. Be a sponge and absorb all you hear and see [lots of people like to take notes or make sketches as well].”
You can visit Mark at the Forsyth Nature Center on Lucas Avenue in Kingston to pick up copies of Where to Bird in Ulster County and the recently updated companion checklist of species seasonal abundance and occurrence; or just ask questions and talk birds. For field trip information and more, “Like” the John Burroughs Natural History Society page on Facebook, and visit the website at https://jbnhs.org.
Upcoming dates to remember: Christmas Bird Counts centered in Ulster County on December 20 and 27. Feeder watchers are needed, if you live within the count circle, and experienced birders for field parties. For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, visit https://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
Operation Christmas Cheer
According to founder Roxanne Ferber, a local Mom in Saugerties, “Operation Christmas Cheer is a letter-writing movement. Volunteers send cards and letters at Christmas to local children who are seriously ill.” This is where you and your family come in, and you could start this weekend: “The mission of OCC is to send an avalanche of colorful Christmas cards to decorate a hospital room, or a room at home where the children spend most of their time healing.”
With so many families interested in volunteering during the holidays, but with limited windows of opportunities due to busy schedules or with children too young for some of the agency settings, this is a fantastic way for all ages in the community to make a difference. For children’s names and mailing addresses, and other ways to spread cheer to these children and their loved ones, simply “Like” the Operation Christmas Cheer page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/operationxmascheer.
Habitat for Humanity
“Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity is a win/win/win/win,” says Barb Adams, co-build captain, enthusiastically. “You’re helping a neighbor out of poverty. You’re helping turn an entire neighborhood around. You’re learning new skills. You’re meeting wonderful people. Habitat is not a Band-Aid on the problems of poverty. Habitat is a solution to the problems of poverty.”
When I asked about this project, I thought that Barb was going to show me one particular house on Thompson Street in Poughkeepsie, but that was the last part of what I saw. First, she pointed across the street to a house that’s boarded up. Habitat owns that house and will begin work on it soon. Next to that house is a tidy home, which was a former Habitat project. The porch across the street and the porch to my left were completed with volunteer help as well. And now this current house is almost completed, and the family will be purchasing it and moving in soon.
Volunteers must be 16 and older to be on the work site, and I hope that those of you with older teens make arrangements to volunteer. Wouldn’t it be cool to replace a workplace holiday party with a volunteer shift at Habitat? If you’d like to continue into the New Year, there’s a house a couple of blocks away to work on. Habitat for Humanity could also use office volunteers, food for the Saturday workers, donations of materials and financial contributions. A group of homeschooled Girl Scouts is making a welcome gift basket for one of the new homeowners, so perhaps that’s something that your group would like to participate in for a future build.
Habitat sells the homes to clients who meet various criteria of income and job security, and the homeowners put in 400 hours of sweat equity. That sale then helps to fund the next project. For more information, call (845) 475-9336 or visit https://hfh-ny-dutc.huterra.com or www.facebook.com/habitatofdutchess.