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This birding leader's flock is growing
SUQUAMISH — Andrew Westphal went on his first bird walk with his dad at age 3. The Westphals lived in Hawaii then, observing exotic island birds. A few years later, the family moved to Washington state and Andrew began to identify birds by their sound. Now at 10, he is leading birding hikes through Kitsap forests with the local Audubon programs.
Andrew, who lives on Bainbridge Island with his family, has been busy this year — taking groups of kids and their parents on bird walks through Great Peninsula Conservancy programs. On Saturday, in partnership with Friends of Miller Bay and the Kitsap Audubon Society, volunteers braved the rain for “Celebrate Urban Birds” — engaging youngsters in educational activities, story time and a bird walk.
“He’s the best guide we could have,” said Denise Kilkenny, a volunteer with a Conservancy partner, Clear Creek Trail. She added that kids appreciate seeing other kids as leaders.
Last Saturday’s event took place at Cowling Creek Forest Preserve, a 40-plus acre preserve on the Suquamish reservation. A friend of Andrew’s mother, Carolyn, suggested Andrew would like to host a bird walk. This was the third bird walk day he hosted this year.
Andrew said he was scared to host his own bird walk at first. But he relaxed once he started spotting birds — then it became just like one of his own walks. He says you can start observing right from your backyard, and likes to quiz his mom on different bird sounds.
Kilkenny said the Conservancy had received a grant from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the materials, and in return used the tours to gather information on 16 native bird species.
“If we can get kids engaged at a young age, as they grow they remember that,” she said. “We’re trying to bind that bond.”
“I just like watching them,” Andrew said of why he got interested in birds. His mom said he was “equally thrilled” about seeing an eagle or a seagull for the first time when he was 6, “because they were both new to him.” His favorite bird at the moment is the Red Knot, a shorebird.
“It's so cool. In between winter and breeding [season] the plumage changes,” he said. Andrew has also participate in the Puget Sound Bird Observatory, helping band birds for observation, and is a member of the American Birding Association.
“It's a great day for Andrew when he goes on a trip and sees a bird he’s never seen before,” Carolyn said.
Andrew studies every bird he comes across, taking note of the date, location and temperature in his field guide, and looks up their sounds in books and online. He thinks he knows about 100 different bird species. The Sakai Intermediate fifth-grader said he wants to become an ornithologist and be “a part of something.”
The Great Peninsula Conservancy will host a Discovery Play Day on Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to noon, at Clear Creek Interpretive Center. The focus is on birds and is tailored to ages 2-10.