Almost 25 mostly little boys anxiously squirmed in their seats, barely able to contain their energy while they waited to hear the wildlife biologist answer their question: “Do they attack you?” Not daunted, Don Gay flashed a grin as he said no; the swans haven’t attacked him, not so far. They momentarily quieted while considering this, and then several hands shot up to ask the next question.
The kids were waiting at the Kulshan Creek neighborhood community center for the bus that would take them to view migratory swans at the Port Susan Bay Preserve, an estuary managed by Nature Conservancy where the Stillaguamish River combines with the Port Susan Bay. Gay described the Trumpeter Swans and shore birds they were going to see and explained why they migrate.
“We want the kids to get outdoors, and expose them to the opportunities that are here,” said Gay, who works for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. He explained that most of the moms and dads are from Mexico. “This is a new culture and new land, and this expands their horizons a little bit,” he said. The youth are participating in the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood program started by the Mount Vernon Police Department in 2007 and partners with the Forest Service, North Cascades National Park and North Cascades Institute to take the kids on outdoor outings.
Gay has been working with the program for three years, helping supervise the trips and teaching the kids about mountain goats, salmon, birds and wildlife habitat. His decade of soccer coaching experience was evident as he helped Shepherd the kids from bus to preserve and back again in the cold blowing rain last Saturday.
Megan McGee, NCI intern, orchestrated games while Gay and Lee Whitford, outreach naturalist with the Forest Service, balanced making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, serving lunch, passing out binoculars, adjusting rain ponchos and leading trips to the outhouses. “All the trips are unique, if plan A doesn’t work, we go to plan B, and back again,” said Gay as he showed Priscila Dominguez, 8, how to use the binoculars. “Yes, binoculars are the opposite of microscopes,” he added, answering her question.
The kids were not disappointed. They squealed with delight upon discovering a pile of Snow Goose feathers, and found using binoculars and the scope frustrating and fascinating. Moments after beginning the trek onto the dike, Gay spotted an American Bittern standing on the path in front of them. Gay set up a scope and each child had a turn seeing a close-up view of a swan. During the field trip Gay pointed out Mallard ducks, a Coot, Bewick’s Wren, American Wigean and a Bald Eagle. On the way back to the community center the bus stopped so the children could see hundreds of Snow Geese dotting a farmer’s field, which is what Priscila said she wanted to see the most. “I got to see the birds, and we ate, and I got to see through the binoculars,” said 6-year-old Esteven Reyes.
Find out more about theKulshan Creek Neighborhood Kids at http://www.geocities.com/kulshancreek/ or contact Officer Jon Gerondale at 360-336-0630 ext. 1456.
Information about program sponsors can be found at their websites below:
US Forest Service MBS National Forest - http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/
North Cascades Institute – http://www.ncascades.org/
North Cascades National Park - http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm