Looking up with Annette Cate

Whiting Village School

IRW brought Annette LeBlanc Cate back to Maine this fall to work with two Washington County schools using her award-winning book “Look Up: Bird-watching in Your Own Back-yard.” Scott Johnson, principal of Whiting Village School, asked if we could arrange for his kids to go to the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park and we were thrilled to make that happen. We’ve worked with Ranger Mackette before and knew she’d help us put a good plan in place. We weren’t disappointed!

Arriving on a gorgeous sunny day (before a torrential rain and windstorm that night!) kids in grades 2-8 piled out of the bus and into the Moore Center to learn about the special place they were visiting. These kids were familiar with the idea of “Leave No Trace” and one young fella noted, “We’re in a museum in a way.”

Annette got them excited about birdwatching using a handmade, brightly colored poster. Caring about the birds and their healthy habitat here in your own backyard helps you make connections to the wider world, she said. You think about where they go when they leave and wonder if their habitat is healthy there as well. Besides, birdwatching is fun and good for your brain.

Out on the trails, with binoculars provided by the park in hand, kids got a first-hand look at both woods and ocean habitats. IRW provided each child with their own mini sketchbook for taking quick notes and making drawings of their observations. While at the shore, a boy asked, “Is it unusual to see an eagle on the beach?” When Director of School Programs Alison Johnson went to reply, an eagle coincidentally flew over the ocean, dove for a fish and flew off over the trees. Nature answered his question for him.

Along with an eagle, some lucky students saw a loon, gulls, a few cormorants, and a pod of porpoises! After lunch, IRW broke out art supplies and the kids created wonderful pictures of birds they had seen or ones they imagined. Loaded on the bus heading back for Whiting, Annette and Alison waved goodbye and even the big kids in the very back waved, too. So sweet!

Milbridge Elementary School

On the second day of Annette’s visits, the weather was not so cooperative. With 70 mph wind gusts and driving rain, the prospects of outdoor birdwatching went out the window at Milbridge Elementary School, where Annette worked with kids in grades 3-6. Unfortunately, Hazel Stark from the Maine Outdoor School had a downed power line across her driveway could not join us as planned. But the wet weather didn’t dampen our spirits.

The whole school gathered for Annette’s presentation as she shared her background and love of birdwatching. When drawing, she noted that “When you draw things it makes you think about them in a different way. You pay attention and begin to understand their environment.”

The kids asked Annette some good questions during the assembly:

Is a roadrunner a real bird?

What about an ostrich?

Did you know that bald eagles can dive at 90 mph! (They’d done some research!)

Great projects were prepared in advance of our visit, including a scavenger hunt based on the book made by third graders, a Birdmon (similar to Pokemon) card game developed by fourth graders. Fifth and sixth graders had done some cool and informative scientific bird biographies. Annette was impressed that they illustrated the birds themselves. They also had nature journals and had done sound maps. The Maine Outdoor School had worked with both third and fifth grades on their Thursday Forays and they all got to visit Birdsacre in Ellsworth the week prior to our visit. Thanks to the Maine Outdoor School for helping to bring Annette’s book to life! It was obvious these kids had spent some time thinking about and researching birds.

During workshops with Annette, they all got to create bird-inspired art using water color pencils; they were a talented and focused bunch! “My mother told me I had a talent inside me,” a youngster noted while showing his work, “but I never believed her. I never knew I could do something so big.” Keep drawing, kiddo!

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