Village Charter School

Birding continues at the Village Charter School on Orchard his year.  Sixth grade is making a study of birds in science this year, and middle math students take daily birding breaks.  House finches, lesser gold finches, sparrows, and doves make living in our classroom a delight, and binoculars are ready to be pulled out in seconds.  I love this way to being with kids; oh and we do learn math too.  

What's New

Tracking the Long-Billed Curlew Migration

April 6, 2016 - 6:19pm -- helenfisher

Thanks to Heidi Ware's last email, seventh grade is relieved to know that some of our eastern Idaho, Wyoming and Montana bound curlews are not dead in Mexico as we thought.  Zooming in to the map closely we found that E.T. and Goldi are happily moving around wetlands in Baja California, AJ, Lady and Zarapita are over the border and moving well into Arizona, although not yet at their high elevation breeding grounds.  Today the class investigated the different sites and responded to Heidi's question, "What is different about the eastern breeding grounds compared to the ACEC, near Emmett.  Some responses:


"The birds who spend their breeding and summers here have made their way home because it is warm.  The Wyoming and Montana birds aren't home yet because their home is cold.  A few days ago my friend was in Wyoming, and while I was here (Boise), outside, I was hot and she was watching snow fall out of the window.  Curlews eat bugs; bugs come out in 60 degree F weather, but not in the snow.  Emmett (ACEC) is about 2,500 feet elevation above sea level, but the Montana and Wyoming breeding grounds are nearly 7000 feet elevation."

Ainsley:  "I've noticed , based on the weather forcast for yesterday, that Montana is quite chilly right now.  There was even a chance of snow!  Spring hasn't exactly started in Wyoming yet.  So I can infer that the curlews from Montana and Wyoming haven't left Mexico and Arizona because it's not warm enough to find food once they get to their north destination.  Today (Wed 4/6), some birds are moving north (finally), like Dave, A.J. and Zarapita, and Goldie were all still in Mexico and Arizona.  Today Mexicali, Mexico, had a high temperature of  93F, but in Montana near the MPG Ranch the high temperature was 47 F , and in Wyoming and eastern Idaho, it was cold, windy and snowfalls predicted with high temperatures of 46F.  Emmett Idaho, where our local curlews are already home and "flirting", it was 58 to 60 degrees F and getting warmer.  Montana's and Wyomings breeding grounds are 3,365 feet to 7,087 feet elevation compared to Emmett's 2431ft.  Since MT and WY are so much high up, then it will take longer for everything to melt and the breeding grounds to be ready" 

House Sparrow Song

January 29, 2016 - 9:52am -- helenfisher

On Thursday afternoon as the rain clouds rolled in, The Village Middle School Birding Club explored our Orchard/Latah neighborhood.  We followed kid-pathways along dry branches of the Ridenbough canal.  Binoculars in hand, we also used our ears to seek out the birds.  Well, there was a lot of kid-chatter too, but the listening explorers hushed the chatter when bird sounds alerted us.  Students reported that they really did try to listen.  Small flocks of lesser goldfinch called as they moved through the branches of elm and locust trees.  We watched them move quickly from branch to branch.  But the soundscape of the high trees was clearly dominated by the song of house finch.  One red bibbed male perched high in the trees singing continuously for many minutes.  He or another competing housefinch was still in the same area singing when we walked back 30 minutes later.  Busy dark-eyed juncos flicked flashes of white tail feathers through the hedge rows of shorter shrubs.  We did not hear their chipping calls, probably because the Explorers  are not yet quiet enough.  We watched goldfinch drinking from small leafy puddles in the bottom of the canal.  In one shadowy section of the canal, about 20 mallard ducks were quietly resting in a large puddle.  We watched through binoculars, but did not disturb their quiet.  There were many more males than females, maybe a ratio 15 to 5.  

Merlin's Lunch

January 23, 2016 - 10:27am -- helenfisher

What makes fifteen finches suddenly take flight from the feeder?  Sudden flight is a common event and not because of children.  Back in December a Coopers Hawk perched in a small tree 10 feet from the feeders, making us fairly sure that predators scare away the nervous finches.  Yesterday, the TVCS Bird Club  watched a culprit in action!  On a telephone pole within 60 feet of our classroom feeders was a falcon-like bird, eating a bird!  Through binoculars, we could see the headless meal, but without binoculars, we saw light-colored flight feathers or perhaps tail feathers, fluttering down from the pole, and stringy sinews that the bird pulled from its prey.  We were surprised at how long the predator took to thoroughly complete its meal.  The whole process was at least 20 minutes.  The predator was so intent on eating that we were able to observe from school, then walk around the block and observe with a different background sky.  

The predator was a small dark falconlike bird.  Against a bright grey sky it was difficult to see characteristic colors and patterns of the American Kestrel, but they did not seem to be there.  Careful binocular observations by first-time fifth grade birders noted that the back of the bird was a solid dark color, but that there were white and brown bars or dots on the breast feathers near the legs.  One observer noted faint light bars on the tail feathers.  Sorting through suggestions that the bird was an American kestrel, a peregrine falcon, and a merlin, our novice group decided that we were looking at a small merlin (Falco columbarius).  If this was a merlin, then we can expect that it caught its meal on wing, not at the feeder.  But wouldn't you be scared if you saw the shadow of a vicious killer fly above you!  We think the birds at the feeders look skywards constantly.

Chipping, Bells, and Raucous Trills

February 26, 2015 - 5:01pm -- helenfisher

Your would think the school on the bench is in a cattail marsh.  We have spent four springs by the Morris Hill Cemetery and this is the first for red winged blackbirds. The two males a couple of weeks ago have grown to morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening raids of the feeders of up to nine blackbirds at a time!!  In a tree on the school ground between 20 and 30 male redwings will be chipping, bell-ringing and trilling.  No wonder we feel like we are in the marsh.  The redwings eat from the sunflower feeder and when that is done, they move to the ground feeder!  We thought that the smaller birds and doves would be pushed away by the rowdy flock, but not so.  House finches, house sparrows, juncos, doves, fewer gold finch and our chickadees still dive in to spaces between blackbirds.  For all their noise, redwings are social.  We did see some wing displays at the feeder this week.  We have not seen pine siskins for a couple of weeks!  Did the warm February send them on to nest making forests?



What we've seen this school year


Helen Fisher, Grade 5
Boise, Idaho USA


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