Birds and Beginning Sailors October 10, 2018

Posted by GGAS in Golden Gate Audubon, Nature Education, San Francisco Wildlife

By Marjorie Powell and Linda Carloni

It all started with a comment at a GGAS Centennial Celebration in spring 2017.
Photographs of birds in Alameda were on display. A member of the Board of an Alameda sailing camp mused about the variety of birds that might be seen at the camp and wondered if a birding class for the sailing students might be possible. It was late to set something up for that summer, but persistence and networking paid off and Marjorie made contact with Emily Zugnoni, the camp’s director in the spring of 2018.

Yes, the Alameda Community Sailing Center operates a sailing camp in Alameda, at
the Encinal boat ramp, and yes, they would be interested in volunteers teaching a lesson about birds during each of their 5 2-week sessions in the summer. After collecting more details about the students, how they are grouped for the sailing lessons, dates, where the presentations would occur, and other details, we brainstormed topics for possible sessions.

We thought it was important to focus on our Bay and its birds, to give the young sailors the
chance to learn about the birds that share the waters with them, the challenges those birds face,
and ways the sailors and the rest of us can steward the environment to give those birds a better


Photo of campers starting a birding project by Emily Zugnoni

Challenges abounded – only a 30 minute time for each session, a student age range from 8 to
18, presentation outdoors with no screen, and the request that each group “do” something
rather than just listen. Working around busy travel schedules, Marjorie, GGAS Executive Director Cindy Margulis, and Sharol Nelson-Embry brainstormed ideas for sessions. Over several weeks, ideas for each
of the four different sailing groups slowly came together.

More volunteers were needed. Some of the people designing the sessions couldn’t teach the
sessions; other volunteers could teach the sessions but were not available for the brainstorming
and design session. Our volunteer teaching crew was terrific: Leora Feeney, Jerry and Michelle
Harrison, Dawn Lemoine and the two of us.

Campers making bird whirligigs by Emily Zugnoni

For the beginners, called Discovery Sailors, the sessions focused on two birds of the Bay, Least
Terns and Osprey. These younger students focused on hands-on activities – a wooden model
of a Least Tern, a transparency of an osprey wing (against which students could measure
themselves) and making whirligigs with a flying Osprey or Least Tern.

Least Tern photo by Rick Lewis

Some of the sailors seemed to have the answers to all of our questions about the
Least Terns that nest in the Reserve at the old Alameda Naval Air Station. They remembered
learning about the terns in school when members of Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve
visited their third grade classroom.

The slightly more experienced Seasoned Sailors focused on what birds need to survive,
discussing food, water, and (since it was summer) nesting sites. The students loved the modified
Oh Deer game that physically demonstrated the effect of abundance and scarcity in the habitat.

Photo of Discovery Sailors by Emily Zugnoni

The older Teen Sailors discussed pollution, particularly plastic, focusing on monofilament fishing
line. Jerry’s pictures of bird stomach contents made a big impression! The campers made small
monofilament collection containers for each of the camp’s sailboats. The STEM sailors worked
on citizen science issues (including GGAS’ Osprey cam data) and discussed differences in what
birds eat and how they get their food, based on their beak shapes.

The camp classroom had no electrical power, but there was cellphone Internet access. All the
groups enjoyed watching Rosie and Richmond nesting and raising their young on the GGAS
Osprey cam. Dawn noted that the young sailors enjoyed the osprey cam so much that she was
sorry the chicks had fledged and were seldom in the nest by the last of the camp sessions.

Osprey cam shot of Richmond’s and Rosie’s offspring

It was a great time for the campers and volunteer instructors each morning. The campers learned
about local birds, some of their unique concerns, and ways to help protect them. Content ideas and
teaching volunteers for the summer 2019 camp groups are needed. Any volunteers?

Marjorie retired and moved from the Chesapeake Bay to the San Francisco Bay a few years ago.  In addition to trying to learn about west coast birds through GGAS classes and field trips, she is a member of GGAS’ Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve and travels frequently with her husband. 

Linda is currently the president of GGAS’s Board of Directors and is a graduate of Golden Gate Audubon’s first Master Birder class.


Tags: Alameda wildlife, California Least Terns, nature education, volunteers.