Donations hatch new season of bird ed at TH

CRARYVILLE–Thanks to the largess of two organizations, an Audubon education program that lost funding in the district budget is still in operation at Taconic Hills Elementary School.

This spring five 3rd grade classes are learning the basics of bird science under the instruction of Audubon Education Coordinator Larry Federman. At their first class in April students learned how different field marks, such as feather coloration, beak formation, tail length and shape, and other characteristics, contribute to the identification process that every wildlife scientist uses.

Last week, instructed by Jenny Brinker, education coordinator for the Columbia County Land Conservancy, students dissected owl pellets, the balls of undigested material sheathed in fur or feathers that Barn Owls regurgitate after swallowing their prey whole. Ms. Brinker introduced students to a stuffed owl, discussed its feeding habits and hunting methods, and distributed the pellets along with a chart to help identify the bones and skulls they would find. Soon students in teacher Alison Stark’s class were unwrapping rat and vole skulls, jaws, ribs and other leftovers from a typical owl meal.

Over an eight-week period running from mid-April into June, Mr. Federman visits each of five 3rd grade classrooms on Friday mornings for a half-hour workshop. Students hear presentations, exchange information, keep journals and venture outside to spot birds. In June students will have an opportunity to test their new found birding skills on a field trip to Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Sanctuary.

This year Taconic Hills Elementary Parent Teachers Organization donated the $2,000 needed for the program, which Berkshire Taconic Foundation had funded last year.

“We were more than happy to pay for it,” said PTO president Alyson Atwood, who said Ms. Stark had requested the funding. “We had some money available from fundraising. We decide how to allocate it. We told teachers we wanted to pay for hands-on enrichment programs, science, nature, art, and music. We depend on the teachers to find these programs.”

The PTO also funds assemblies, supplies for classes and clubs and a DJ for a dance, but the group’s “big push is for enrichment programs that they would otherwise not be able to have.”

Ms. Brinker’s presence at the school was free to the school and funded by the members of her organization. She said she conducts around 100 school programs each year.

“It’s great we were able to provide the program again,” said Mr. Federman.

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