Archive | October, 2012

Celebrating Birds with Migratory Bird Day

17 Oct

I unabashedly love birds. I have found that going birdwatching has been one of my favorite past times since I got to Paraguay. It is, at the same time, relaxing and exciting. You get to go meander slowly, listening to bird calls and looking at oftentimes strikingly beautiful birds as they go about their day: flying, eating, resting, nesting. There is also that great thrill when you are looking through the binoculars and realize you are seeing something new: a new species for the list or an interesting behavior. I still think I’m a rather mediocre birdwatcher, as my identification skills are less than stellar, but I’ve somehow managed to see and identify around 80 of the nearly 700 species that can be found in Paraguay (I think 10% is pretty good, considering I haven’t done much traveling inside Paraguay and I live in a less-than-stellar birding area).

Black vulutre

A common sight, circling high above, a Black Vulture

I was mildly heartbroken to realize that my love of birds is considered so foreign here. I’d see kids in my community shooting at birds with slingshots, and hear neighbors complaining that many birds were pests. I decided to try to communicate why I find birds so amazing by doing a series of education programs for kids in my community. I focused on doing an event for International Migratory Bird Day, an annual celebration that takes place in May (when a lot of birds are leaving the Southern Hemisphere to migrate north).

Turquoise-fronted parrot

Often kept as pets in Paraguay, Turquoise-fronted Parrots can also be found in the wild. They mimic sounds they hear, including human words.

I held my first program in May at the local youth center that I volunteer at. During that event we discussed what migration meant, and why birds migrate. Then I showed them on a map the large distances some Paraguayan birds travel each year. It was a good opportunity to share with them that some of the birds that we see here in Paraguay, I could go see back at my home in the United States. They thought that was pretty cool.

migration poster

This is a migration poster I made. We used 3 birds (bobolink, swallow and sandpiper) to show how migration works.

We then went over some basics like what makes a bird a bird, and the parts of a bird. I then brought in the theme of adaptation and we played a matching game where we tried to identify what type of beak would be best-suited to a number of different types of food. We finished the day making native bird masks, which were a huge hit.

parts of the bird

The kids identifying the parts of a bird

morning bird masks

My morning “flock” of birds

afternoon bird masks

The afternoon group with their completed masks

The kids and I had so much fun with the event in May, that I decided I had to celebrate again when the birds returned to the Southern Hemisphere in October. This time I planned two events: a meeting of my reading club focused on bird migration, and a bird watching outing with the kids from the first program.

I found a wonderful book in my library called “Nacho y Lolita” (Nacho and Lolita) by Pam Munoz Ryan that features the famous migrating swallows of San Juan Capistrano. These birds actually migrate from South America to California each year, so they were a perfect example to illustrate migration to my students. We did a little lesson on bird migration before we read the story. After reading the book we talked about why birds are an important part of our ecosystem. Then we finished by making bird mobiles. It was a super fun meeting.

coloring mobiles

Club members color their bird mobiles

Rafael with book and mobile

Rafael with the book Nacho y Lolita and his completed mobile

A week later I returned to the local youth center to do another program about birds, this time focusing on how to watch and identify birds. We began by reviewing what migration was and explaining that it was a good time to watch birds, as many of them are currently returning to South America after migrating north in May. We talked about how to go about watching birds, emphasizing the importance of being quiet, moving slowly, and using the eyes and ears to observe. I then explained how to identify birds, focusing on size, shape, colors and patterns, habitat and behavior. During this section we got to review the parts of the bird and different types of beaks, information we had originally learned in May. I drew a big poster of 10 common birds in Paraguay (House Sparrow, Smooth-billed Ani, Field Flicker, Guira Cuckoo, Rufous Hornero, Monk Parakeet, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Red-crested Cardinal, Southern Lapwing, Great Kiskadee) and we practiced matching written observations to birds that had those characteristics. This was a great way to get the kids ready for being out in the field.

kids matching beaks

Kids match food types to beak types

Common birds of Paraguay

My common birds of Paraguay poster

kids practice id

Kids practice matching characteristics to birds on the poster that have those characteristics (i.e. red crown, yellow belly, tri-color tail)

After practice, I showed them how to use binoculars, which I had borrowed from the Peace Corps environmental education folks. Then we formed groups and passed out the binoculars and cameras (I happened to be doing Ahecha at the same time). The excitement level of the kids to use the binoculars was extremely high. All of them had never seen or used binoculars and they were fascinated by how close they made everything look. We took an hour-long bird walk around the edges of my town and had great success identifying all of the birds on our common bird list, and seeing some other cool ones like a Black Vulture, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, Southern Crested Caracara and Saffron Finch. It was a really fun experience for all of the kids and they were enthusiastic when I proposed borrowing the binoculars again over the summer to do some more birdwatching.

morning birders

Morning birding group



Checking out a monk parakeet in the binoculars

watching a black vulture

Kids eyeing a black vulture in the distance

I’m planning to incorporate more bird-related activities into programs, clubs and camps throughout the rest of my service. I hope that my enthusiasm for these magnificent animals will inspire youth in my site to appreciate their beauty and importance, and teach others to treat them with respect. In the meanwhile, I will continue to go birding on a weekly basis. There I will revel in the crazy turn of the head of a Burrowing Owl, the scissor-like movement of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher’s elegant tail, the rapid dive of the Ringed Kingfisher and the soft hum of the Glittering-bellied Emerald’s flight.

me birding

Me birding at San Rafael Reserve in southern Paraguay

Burrowing owl

One of my favorite Paraguayan birds, the Burrowing Owl, hanging out on one of my recent bird walks

See photos of my bird-related programs and Paraguayan animals (including all my bird snapshots) on my Flickr page.


Ahecha – Youth Photography Project

9 Oct

Throughout September I taught photography lessons to youth as part of the Ahecha photography project. This national initiative provides a set of cameras to volunteers so that they can teach photography to kids in their sites. I manage the project’s website, and help them with marketing, so it was awesome to finally get the chance to get the camera kit and put it to use in my town.

Cesar snaps a picture of Juan Carlos, taking a picture, as I look on in the background

Through the class, I taught very basic photography concepts, like perspective, color, light and movement, to 3 separate groups in my community: kids at the Cultural Center (ages 8 to 12), kids at the soup kitchen (ages 6 to 16) and members of my youth group (ages 13 to 24).

Rafael applying the perspective lesson

Rafael applying the perspective lesson

Sara snaps a photo

For most of the participants it was their first time every using a camera. It was fun to see the gusto they had for snapping pictures. It was also extremely rewarding watching them absorb the lessons each day, and then apply them on our daily photo walk.

A photo of Ayelen using perspective


The kids were obsessed with taking flower photos

Animals: the second most popular photo subject


Another popular subject: me


Fernando captured this door and flower

We ended the course with a photo scavenger hunt in the main plaza, which was a lot of fun.

Capturing movement during the photo scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt

Ayelen and Rafael check items off the list during the scavenger hunt


Samira captures a reflection during the scavenger hunt


Cesar takes a shot to illustrate light

I had over 60 kids participate in the classes over the course of a month and a half, and they managed to capture some great photos. I am grateful to all the kids for their never-ending energy and enthusiasm, which made teaching the class super fun for me.

CCT class

Photography students from the Cultural Center

I’m currently working on putting together a local exposition of their photos so that their families and other community members can see their work.

Check out more of their photos on my Flickr page and check out the Ahecha blog to see photos from youth all over Paraguay.