After a week-long “Hello Lighthouse” tour with Sophie Blackall, it was off to the islands for birdwatching with author/illustrator, Annette LeBlanc Cate. IRW Director of School Programs Alison Johnson met up with Annette in Lincolnville to catch the ferry out to Islesboro for day one of a three-day island tour.
“Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard,” Annette’s book designed to show kids that birdwatching is a fun activity for all, was used as the platform to get kids in grades K-7 outside and making observations. Prior to heading out, Annette shared how she came to write the book, noting that spending your days working in a dark office will make anyone crave the outdoors eventually. It was during her work breaks that she walked in a cemetery nearby and began to notice and wonder about the birds she was seeing. Looking through guide books, which are dense in information and can be difficult to navigate, the idea to write a kid-friendly book formed. “How long did it take to write?” she was asked, “Only about seven years.” That’s a long time.
Through the doors of the old stone “cottage” that now houses the Islesboro Central School, we headed out on the trails. Everyone was thrilled to see the sun poke its head through the very persistent cloud cover that had greyed the skies for days. It is a definite challenge to keep 10 middle schoolers quiet in the woods, but immediately we heard a Phoebe singing its repetitive song. Seeing it was a whole different thing. An eagle soared over us, a robin flitted about in the field, there were signs of woodpeckers, and we heard an American Redstart, and a chickadee. One student, upon seeing a blue jay claimed one had brought him a rock once.
The kids were quick to share with Annette what they knew about birds. “I saw two pileated woodpeckers on the same branch once!” shared one young man. When crows were the topic, the teacher shared that they had been discussing them as they were reading “Animal Farm.” As we walked and paused along the trail and in the lovely school orchard, the kids took notes and sketched what they saw. Later, back in the classroom, we broke out the art supplies and they got busy transferring their work from sketches to drawings using watercolor pencils to add color.
When we visited the K-3 classroom, Chloe Joule, an education specialist from the Islesboro Land Trust, joined in. She had been working with the kids to help them learn about the local habitat and bird migration patterns. We weren’t able to get these kids outside due to time constraints, but they fully engaged in a guess-what-I’m-drawing game with Annette as she drew the birds we had seen with the older kids. The kids had obviously been out on the trails before as one youngster shared, “We got to chase the turkeys!”
Moving on to the 4-5th grade classroom, we took the democratic approach and kids voted on whether they wanted to go outside or do some painting inside. Watercolors won the day and they created some amazing artwork. They were eager to share birds they had seen recently and one student noted that his mom had just been taking pictures of a great blue heron. Another shared, “I see ospreys all the time. They swoop down and catch fish.” When Annette shared that she drew the birds she saw while driving up from Massachusetts, a concerned child asked, “Were you drawing and driving?” Annette assured him she was safely settled before she began drawing. Too cute!