Day 2 on Vinalhaven
Thank goodness our outer island site coordinator, Jan Keiper, joined us on day two of our visits with Annette LeBlanc Cate, as we had a delayed start to our morning. She was waiting at the ferry from Lincolnville to Vinalhaven with tickets in hand as we ran with our bags and sketchbooks banging, to hop on just in the nick of time. Island living has its challenges and everybody knows that the ferry waits for no one.
Walking into the beautiful granite foyer of the Vinalhaven School, we immediately noticed the papier-mache bird sculptures displayed for all to see. In the library, there were incredible multi-layered seagull paintings. Annette was impressed with the various viewpoints the kids chose to paint.
This visit was a special collaboration between the North Haven Community School and Vinalhaven School, along with area conservationist groups. As one teacher picked us up from the ferry, another was picking up the North Haven kids from grades 2-4 at the thoroughfare.
Joining us for an all-group presentation that morning was Kirk Gentalen of Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Sherry Rega of Vinalhaven Land Trust. IRW was thrilled to partner with both community organizations after a great deal of advanced planning that had taken place earlier this spring. Their combined expertise was put to good use out on the trails. Before heading out, each shared a bit about their organizations, the work they do to preserve habitats on the island and why it’s important. Annette had created a “why watch birds poster” to get kids thinking.
Annette noted that kids are great observers. “You can sharpen your observation and drawing skills,” she said. “Your sketchbook can be like a diary of your day.” She encouraged them to just “catch shapes” and “make short notes” and not to get caught up in perfection.
Kirk, a natural on the stage, performed a dramatic representation of the woodcock “beeping” which elicited great laughter from the crowd. He asked the kids, “Why do birds sing?” “To attract a mate,” was the clear response. Next up, Sherry shared some good trail information and handed out maps and brochures for all. “How should you be on a bird walk?” Kirk asked, helping kids to think before we headed out.
As is always the case with a school visit, flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game so when the bus meant to transport us didn’t start, we had no problem shifting gears and walking to the trailhead. It was delightful to see 36 kids and accompanying adults walking down the streets of the island. Immediately, Annette, ever with a sharp eye, pointed out a cardinal. But it wasn’t long before kids began pointing out gulls, eiders, goldfinches, and even a great blue heron. The prized sighting was an American kestrel, a small and gorgeous falcon.
Along the trail Mr. Warren, fourth grade teacher at Vinalhaven, shared with Annette that his kids loved her book, “Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Back-yard.” He said they were so enthralled by it that he’d have to stop them from reading to move on to other work! Annette loved hearing that!
When walking with children you just never know what they might say. Looking down at his now-dirty shoes one youngster said, “My sneakers match my tuxedo now. It got dirty on Easter.” A young girl walking behind us was heard singing, “Tuesday is a fun day. Funday Tuesday!” Does it get better than that?
After the installation of a new battery, the repaired bus picked us up to head back to the school to the great relief of many tired students. One little guy said if the bus wasn’t there he was going to call his mom to come get him! After lunch, we were back in the library where the kids used Annette’s field guides as references to double-check the details of what they wanted to paint. As the Vinalhaven and North Haven students chatted as they created, one boy from Vinalhaven asked a girl, “You live on North Haven?” She shyly replied, “Yes.” Then a girl said to her, “I love your earrings!” And another said, “Are you going to visit again?” Bringing the two island schools together in collaboration was one of IRW’s goals for this visit.
Fantastic artwork was created and then those who wanted to share did so. One of the last to share had painted a chickadee and using his humor he let us know it was “Chick ID,” to which Annette chimed in, “Hey, chick do you have an ID?” It was great fun all around.
The highlight of the day was the newly-hatched baby duck brought in by Vinalhaven third grade teacher Ms. Reidy. She let every child have a turn holding the adorable, fuzzy duckling. Total cuteness overload!
Day 3 on North Haven
It took two trips for Brown’s taxi to get IRW and Vinalhaven kids from grades 5-7 across the thoroughfare as we headed off to North Haven for the day. The rain held off for us once again and we were able to enjoy another great day of hiking. First, the North Haven team had organized some “get to know you” games.
This time, we had 41 kids altogether and Maria, the Island Institute Island Fellow, facilitated the games. With everyone in a circle, it was a bit like musical chairs except there were mini bean bags instead of chairs.
Once settled on the gym bleachers for an overview of the day, North Haven grades 5-6 teacher Mr. Dow asked the kids, “Why did we do the games?” “To get comfortable.” “To mix us up.” “To get to know each other.” During Annette’s overview, she wanted kids to recognize that birds who migrate always return.
Also joining us on our hike was Kate Quinn, North Haven school librarian and avid birder. After dividing into three groups, we boarded the bus (no hiccups this day!) and were dropped off at three different locations. One group spotted a phoebe right away and it seemed to follow us along for a bit. Maria had the kids try the technique of “phishing” where you say “psh, psh, psh” to see if you can attract any birds. She also had the kids practice focusing by shaping their hands into circles and drawing them up to their eyes to focus on a specific spot. She also sent us through the woods in turn on a “solo walk.” She would release one person every 20 seconds and we had to walk silently along the path, through the woods and out onto the golf course where we met the other two groups. One boy shared with IRW Site Coordinator Jan Keiper, “I want to be one of those people who studies birds.” “An ornithologist?” she asked. He had his grandma’s binoculars that were a bit big for his little hands.
While the whole group enjoyed a snack we spotted not one, but two kestrels near the green. Time flies when you’re having fun and there are buses to catch, so we had to regroup and head back to the school.
A special lunch prepared by volunteers was awaiting us; corn chowder, chicken soup and other delights. After cleanup and another team building game, the kids settled in to create art using their notes and Annette’s field guides. Some amazing art was created even by the most hesitant kids. It can be intimidating to create in front of new people and these kids did amazing work.
IRW was thrilled to act as catalyst to bring these two communities together. The middle school students talked to their island peers about when they might get together again. It was nice to see them personally connecting with each other. A dance was announced so perhaps they will get to see each other soon! The feedback of the day was overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to future collaborations with all involved.
We’d like to give a special shout out to the following organizations who collaborated with IRW and our partner schools:
Maine Coast Heritage Trust
The Vinalhaven Land Trust
Island Fellows/The Island Institute
Thanks also to North Haven Central School for sharing additional photos with us.