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Young Birders: A weekend in Wenatchee National Forest

by Melissa Melloy, AmeriCorps Service Member Education Coordinator
 

Young Birders

Seattle Audubon’s Young Birders program runs from September to June of each year. Its mission: to give teenage students a working knowledge of birds and their habitats through birding trips, citizen science projects, and conservation work. Each year, the program is led by the Environmental Education Coordinator, a member of the Americorps service team. As such, the Young Birders program is flexible, focusing on the strengths of the program leader and the desires of the students.        

This year, I was lucky to be the Young Birders leader and chose to celebrate the close of our program year with a weekend of birding around Wenatchee and Leavenworth. We hoped that this trip would encourage connections between the students, introduce them to new bird species not frequently seen around the Seattle area, and serve as an experiential learning activity for a variety of camping skills. Our trip exceeded these expectations in every possible manner.

Heading to Lake Wenatchee

My trip co-leader (Seattle Audubon’s Community Engagement Manager Wendy Walker),and I headed east of the Cascades with five eager Young Birders in tow. We took off on a Friday evening, cars filled with food, optics, tents, and a jam-packed agenda for the upcoming weekend.

We camped on the beautiful shore of Lake Wenatchee at Lake Wenatchee State Park (a great birding spot for birds of all types) and spent the first evening cooking bratwurst and veggies over the fire. The theme of the non-birding portion of the trip was teamwork. Students were assigned tasks to help build the fire, prepare the food, cook, and clean. A few of the students had never built or cooked over a fire before and it was inspiring to watch some of the more experienced students teach the others the best way to arrange sticks or to troubleshoot a feeble fire.

Starting the day off at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery

The following morning, upon waking to one of the loudest morning choruses I have ever heard, we began cooking breakfast and set out for our first day of birding. We started off the day a bit further south at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. A series of gorgeous trails took us around the Wenatchee River and into a variety of different kinds of habitats, like open fields and lush forests. Here, we saw American Dippers, Spotted Towhees, Cedar Waxwings, Downy Woodpeckers, and so much more. The Icicle Creek Nature Trail is home to several nest boxes with descriptions of the birds who use them, which we found informative and fun during the slower birding times. Towards the end of our journey, we relaxed for 15 minutes in their bird blind overlooking a small portion of the river. Overall, the hatchery turned out to be a great spot to see a variety of birds and start our morning.

A day at Sleeping Lady and Leavenworth

Next, we headed over to the Sleeping Lady resort, where we birded our way along a gorgeous self-guided art walk. Between the beautiful buildings, tall trees, and wonderful art, we were able to spot woodpeckers, a swallow hatchling in its nest, and some adorable California Quail hopping along the path just in front of us. We also tracked down what we thought might be a White-headed Woodpecker, but unfortunately couldn’t find it after catching a glimpse of it flying over. Still, Sleeping Lady proved to be a valuable birding spot and a great way to introduce art into our trip.

By the end of our Sleeping Lady tour, we were exhausted and hot and decided to head into downtown Leavenworth to reward ourselves with some ice cream. Everyone sat around the tables chatting about the best birds that we had seen — and what we still hoped to see on our trip. Shortly after finishing our ice cream, we headed back to the campsite for the night. Little did we know some of our most fun birds would be seen hanging around our campsite!

A lifer — and an inspiring sight

That night at Lake Wenatchee, while cooking taco meat over the fire, I was able to see a Yellow-rumped Warbler. While somewhat common, it was a lifer for me  — and one that had eluded me until that day. One of the students actually saw it first and, thanks to our conversation earlier, knew that it was a bird I desperately wanted to see. While eating s’mores, and packing sleeping bags, we spotted loons, flickers, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Western Tanagers, and Black Swifts. Some of our best birding happened from our home base!

We awoke early the final morning of our trip to another cacophonous morning chorus. I emerged from my tent to see one of our students diligently listening and documenting the birds that he heard. It must have been five in the morning — it was inspiring to already see such dedication and passion for the birds in someone so young. We headed out  soon after breakfast to make one final birding pit stop at Crescent Lake in Monroe, Washington.

We had heard reports of a few of our last wishlist birds in this area. Unfortunately, while we were able to see Bushtits, sapsuckers, Cedar Waxwings, and an unidentified flycatcher species, we were quickly overtaken by allergies induced by the tall grasses. Though we all began sneezing almost immediately, we persevered for quite a while (for the birds!) until we were too uncomfortable to stay. While Crescent Lake wasn’t as much of a birding hotspot as we had hoped, it was still a nice escape from our road trip home.

Heading home

Once we finally pulled into the Seattle Audubon parking lot, we were all tired (and a bit smelly) but very happy. I had come to know these students over the course of the year, but felt so much closer to them after our wonderful weekend bird extravaganza. I can hope that lasting friendships between the students were formed on that trip. I also arrived home knowing far more about birds that I could’ve imagined it was possible to learn in one weekend — most of it taught to me by the students.

After organizing the chaos that was the packed contents of our cars, we said goodbye. Eager parents came to pick up their children and inquire about the trip. We all agreed that it was a wonderful experience, and I was sad to see them drive off one by one and head home. For me, even though the trip is over, it will no doubt be a lasting memory of my time at Audubon and my year with Young Birders. I hope that the students feel the same.

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