Nest Watch

How do you make education “real” for students? It’s all about making it local and creating connection.

I have always wanted to connect my students to the natural world around them. That natural world can be experienced in our own school community. From our schoolyard I have seen many interesting avian species. And if student are around, I want to share this with them. I have pointed out a pair of adult bald eagles circling above the food court or a passing peregrine falcon (I’m sure most missed it!)

Just to the north of the upper grade playground, I noted a nest below the canopy in a eucalyptus tree. In all honestly, I had seen this nest over the past few years. This is a red-shouldered hawk nest and I was interested to see if it was going to be used again this year.

Red-shouldered hawks tend to reuse their nest across generations and I did not know how many years this nest has been in use.

An early morning field sketch of the RSHA nest.

On a Friday I brought my scope and tripod to school and I wrote “I Spy” on our agenda just before recess. This generated excitement among my students and I didn’t explain what it meant.

I introduced my students to my telescope (scope for short) and explained its uses and advantages over the naked eye (getting closer to wildlife without disturbing them) or using binoculars (seeing more details).

Pointing the scope at the nest was like a revelation to many of my students because it became magic, making the unseen, seen.

Students saw the nest but at the moment, in mid February, it was not yet occupied. But over the nest few weeks as I birded in the field, I started to see the signs of the changing of the seasons.

A crow flying with a twig, morning bird song, copulating red-tailed hawks, two red-shouldered hawks circling together and calling.

And then, on March 13, I drove to the street nearest the nest. In the distance I heard the local red-shouldered hawks calling. These are the most vocal hawks on the West Coast, despite the fact that the red-tailed’s call is more famous. From my right, a red-shouldered appeared and made a B-line to the nest! This was an amazing sight to see. I wanted to share this with my student the following day.

The red-shouldered hawk doing a bit of nest-keeping.

Nature doesn’t always do what you want it to. Just as I set up my scope to observe the nest, a red-shouldered flew from the nest, which a few students saw.

This made me more determined that we should have a weekly “Nest Watch” and share our observations with the rest of the school community.

To be continued. . .

Sans watercolor.
After a few washes.