BIG HORN — It seems many of us could learn a lesson or two from the art of birdwatching: Get away from the noise and just listen.
Then the swish of wind in yellow leaves turning brown as winter approaches.
Then a peep, peep. And a chirpity, chirp. And a high-pitched trill, like a soprano drumroll.
Binoculars are raised.
Ears are open.
The Belted Kingfisher is somewhere, over there, in those trees up high.
A gaggle of people gather and look for the kingfisher’s dusty midnight blue feathers for the sheer joy of seeking and finding a beautiful creature in its natural home.
Year-round, at 9 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month, you’ll find these birdwatchers exploring the grounds of The Brinton Museum in Big Horn for Birding at The Brinton, a unique combination of kids, scientists, nature lovers and birders both amateur and avid.
Sheridan College anatomy and physiology instructor Jackie Canterbury started Birding at The Brinton about three years ago with Sarah Mentock, director of Science Kids, a program that offers science classes and opportunities for kids in Sheridan County. The two thought it would be a good way to increase traffic at The Brinton Museum, instruct Science Kids participants and generate interest in birding, Canterbury said.
Soon, the Big Horn Audubon Society joined in, and Birding at The Brinton became a time to share knowledge, share nature and get away from the noise and just listen.
Birding for education
Saturday, nearly 15 birders gathered, some new and some longtime participants.
“I’ve been a member of the Big Horn Audubon Society for many years, and we’ve been out here before. When Jackie Canterbury started this program we all jumped in line, and we think it’s a very wonderful thing,” birder C.T. Bailey said.
Bailey has been interested in wildlife since he was a boy, he said. He thinks it is the wide variety of birds that makes them so interesting.
“There’s just so many different kinds. I doubt if one person could ever see all of the birds in the universe in their lifetime,” Bailey said.
At 8 years old, Caleb Knudson is about the age Bailey was when his fascination with birds began. He and his dad, Eric, were first-timers at Birding at The Brinton Saturday.
“Me and my grandma, and grandpa, and Eric, we watch birds a lot, and we watch a lot of hummingbirds, too,” Knudson said as he eagerly gripped his binoculars and waited for the excursion to begin.
Getting kids like Knudson interested in birds and nature is key to the monthly event.
“Education is interesting. You don’t want to force it; you want to kind of be with it and let it happen,” Canterbury said. “You come out here, and see this beauty, and touch nature, and it sort of hopefully leaves an impression, especially on the children.”
Birding for the environment
Brinton Museum Director and Chief Curator Ken Schuster said Birding at The Brinton is a perfect match with the museum’s focus on education and preservation.
“It’s a great, leisurely educational activity that ties into our mission statement here at The Brinton, which is preservation not only of the art collections but also of the environment, the land that we own,” Schuster said.
Canterbury, who recently published the book, “Birds and Birding in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains Region” with P.A. Johnsgard and H. F. Downing, said The Brinton Museum is an ideal location for birding. It has a variety of well-maintained habitat with riparian areas and large trees and shrubs. Its location along Little Goose Creek at the base of Little Goose Canyon is a draw for birds that come down the slot of the canyon, Canterbury said.
“It’s intact. There’s no development. That’s the key to having a stable population of birds is that you want to maintain the habitat,” Canterbury said. “Out here, I think there’s a lot of love for this land that goes back generations, and I think as a result you see that the land is in very good shape.”
Canterbury said there are several “resident” birds at The Brinton. There is a Dipper, a Great Blue Heron, a Belted Kingfisher and the turkeys.
“There’s a cast of characters that are always here, and so you can usually always see them,” Canterbury said.
That is good for making sure kids and birdwatchers get to actually see birds, and it is also good for science.
“I’m a scientist, so it’s a very, very good way, through time, to look at changes, to document changes in presence,” Canterbury said. “You can look at the changes in bird numbers as affected not only by the local habitat but by changes globally, say for example by climate change.”
While tracking bird numbers may seem minor, it’s not, Canterbury said.
“It’s the canary in the coal mine. That means that birds are such phenomenal indicators of the health of the ecosystem, and that’s our health,” Canterbury said. “What did Chief Seattle say? What happens to animals, happens to us. It’s a really good indicator of the health of the environment.”
• For more information about Birding at The Brinton, call Sheridan College at 674-6446 and ask for Jackie Canterbury in the biology department.