Keegan Nicoloff, 14, was amazed by the number of birds she was able to spot during a foray to Scout Island with the Young Birders Association. On a one-mile walk through Couturie Forest in City Park, the small bird-watching group identified 29 species, including a downy woodpecker, brown thrasher, eastern phoebe, Carolina chickadee, orange-crowned warbler and ruby-crowned kinglet.
Wendy Rihner, a birder for 30 years, made a call and a lot of birds came out, the teenager said.
“I really like crows. They’re really cool.”
The nature outing was coordinated by New Orleans Recreation Development Commission’s outdoor programs in partnership with the Orleans Audubon Society. NORDC plans to lead free walks for teenage youths on the second Saturday of every month. The next field trip will be 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, starting at Couturie Arboretum, 1009 Harrison Ave. Outings will explore Bayou Sauvage, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and other birding hotspots.
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” said Emily Snyder, NORDC outdoor programs manager. Snyder attended one of the Orleans Audubon Society’s monthly meetings at the Community Unitarian Universal Church in Lakeview, hoping to start a bird-watching group and connected with Wendy Rihner. Together, they decided to launch a new program.
“Teens are so stuck in their electronic devices,” said Rihner, environmental education chairwoman for the Orleans Audubon Society.
There are many new skills that can be developed through bird-watching, for example, patience, powers of observation, critical thinking and closeness to nature. Birders learn how to identify the type of bird by breaking down its physical characteristics, then analyzing and synthesizing the information.
Outing participants will receive instructions on where and how to look for birds; ways to identify bird calls; and the use of binoculars.
“Bird-watching is great for teenagers because they are beginning to think about their careers. It helps teens engage with the natural world in a mature way and practice citizen science by helping to measure the bird count,” Snyder said.
Rihner’s avocation began while walking the Bayou Coquille trail in the Barataria Preserve when a brilliant yellow prothonotary warbler landed in a nearby tree.
“That was my ‘Road to Damascus,’ ” Rihner said.
“New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are a mecca for birds. Migrating birds stop on Grand Isle to rest and refuel from the end of February ’till the end of May. April is the height of spring migration,” Rihner said.
Teenagers are not the only ones invited to join NORDC adventures. Parents can accompany their children to discover “transformative” experiences. Adults led by Snyder on a walk through the forest were amazed by the sense of peace and joy being in nature.
“I’d like to find a way that everyone can connect to the natural world. If you can’t, it’s because you just haven’t found the way yet,” Snyder said. “It helps people get in touch with parts of themselves they forgot existed.”