Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Program proof that you don’t need to see birds to enjoy birding

For the Lowell Association for the Blind, "Birding by Ear'' is an important part of the organization's programming.

PLUM ISLAND, Mass. — “Do you hear that high pitch to the right?” bird expert David Moon asks the group.

“You guys hear that? It’s a red-winged blackbird,” adds Moon, director of the Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport.

“Cheep! Cheep!” he continues, imitating other birds. “Sparrows love this neighborhood.”

One of the premier bird-watching places in the Northeast was transformed into a bird-listening soundscape last week.

Some of the group members couldn’t see the birds at picturesque Plum Island, but they quickly grasped the birds’ distinct tunes while learning about the different species.

“That’s another bird behind us,” comments Angela Manerson, wearing a Perkins School for the Blind shirt.

David Moon, director of the Joppa Flats Education Center, imitates bird sounds for blind visitors during a “Birding by Ear” tour at Plum Island last week.

“I’m hearing them all over now.

“There’s one off to the right. Deet, deet, deet,” she adds.

Ten participants from the Lowell Association for the Blind experienced “Birding by Ear” last week, as Moon from the Massachusetts Audubon Society guided the adult program participants along the wildlife refuge.

Moon gave them a thorough lesson on the various birds’ sounds. He also shared other tidbits about the species.

“We’re just gonna listen for a moment,” the bird expert says. “Oh, there the mockingbird goes. It’s loud.

“The more mockingbirds sing, the females think they’re awesome,” he adds. “They’re showing their territory. The female thinks, ‘Do I have a good man or what?'”

Moon also taught them about the difference between adult and baby birds. The younger birds sound like they’re begging, he told the participants.

“Can you hear the babies? Hear that begging?” Moon says. “You can hear the food going in sometimes.”

Workers and volunteers guided the clients through the wildlife sanctuary.

“Oh yeah, I can smell the salt marsh now,” Manerson observes. “That ocean smell. … And there’s that nice breeze.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society tries to get the Lowell Association for the Blind out to Plum Island twice a year, according to Moon.

In the fall, the clients will get to handle birds at the banding stations.

“It’s wonderful to have them out here,” he said. “These enriching experiences should be normal for people with challenges like blindness. It’s important they have access to this.”

Ellen Kunkel, an Audubon volunteer, was guiding clients last week. Kunkel said she made it a point to not bring her binoculars.

“It’s important to open your ears, a sense that sighted people don’t use enough,” she said.

Elizabeth Cannon, executive director of the Lowell Association for the Blind, said that “Birding by Ear” is an important part of the organization’s programming.

“It gets our clients outdoors interacting with nature and the environment, and on a beautiful day there is nothing better,” Cannon said. “For many of them, this would be their only opportunity to participate in a program designed for them.”


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