An after-school outing at Skyliners Lodge

Vision-impaired students experience sounds, feel of nature

By Monicia Warner / The Bulletin

Wyatt Hagerty is well on his way to becoming a birder, partially due to a very vocal pet.

“I have a real bird and it’s a parakeet and I hear my bird chirp a lot,” Hagerty, 7, said. “When it chirps nice, it’s happy. When it chirps like it’s crazy, it goes ‘chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!’”

Hagerty, a second-grader at Elk Meadow Elementary, joined seven other vision-impaired students from Redmond, Bend and Prineville on a nature outing at Skyliners Lodge last week. The outing, sponsored by the High Desert Education Service District and Discover Your Forest, introduced the students to local birds and wildlife by incorporating sound and touch.

“This is something that we try to put on outside of what we do with the district,” said Bob Hoffman, High Desert Education Service District vision specialist. “We can provide kids who are blind and low-vision with some extracurricular enrichment activities.”

Hoffman said children in the district’s vision program have done skiing, rock climbing and shopping outings in downtown.

“It allows them to add to their school experience,” Hoffman said. “We try to enrich that part of their lives in addition to what we do with the school systems, with their classroom and academics.”

During last week’s nature outing, East Cascade Audubon Society members Sherrie Pierce, 69, and Marion Davidson, 71, used Audubon plush birds to introduce the students to local bird species.

“Sometimes when one part of our bodies doesn’t work so well, the other parts do,” Pierce said. “Just because you can’t always see the bird doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be a good birder.”

The plush toys were passed around by the students so they could squeeze them and hear each bird’s real song.

“This bird is saying ‘chick-a-dee,’” Davidson said.

“It sounds like it’s saying ‘cheeseburger,’” said Isabella Rossi, 11, a sixth-grader at Cascade Middle School.

“This is a redwing blackbird,” Pierce said. “They’re very common around here.”

“Alert, alert! Fire, fire!,” said Camren Hill, 8, a second-grader at Vern Patrick Elementary School in Redmond, comparing the bird’s song to another common sound.

Later, the kids split up for more tactile exploration of animal figures, tracks, skulls and “scat,” courtesy of Joan Kittrell and Carina Rosterolla, wildlife biologists with Deschutes National Forest’s Crescent Ranger District.

“Beaver poop is in little segments and full of wood chips,” Kittrell said.

“How cool!” Isabella said. “Looks like what I find in my backyard.”

Karen Gentry, Discover Your Forest education program director, said she hopes the kids took away an appreciation of the natural environment. “We always encourage showing the beauty, the life cycles we have out here,” Gentry said. “It gets them in touch with things they might not otherwise have access to.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, mwarner@bendbulletin.com

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