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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bird-watching with Karen's Kailash Students

Today was yet another grand birding day! Sure I saw one species that was new for me, and had the pleasure of figuring out what it was…in a new place that was rich in bird life and sparse in human presence! But the part that made it exceptional is that I got to spend the day and the experience with my birding students from Kailash Hostel.

These are 14 high school aged birders who not only come birding together early each Saturday (their only day off from school each week), but are always super-excited and look forward to a day of hiking, seeking and learning each week. None of the students had ever been “birding” before or had ever thought about looking closely enough to notice that there are more than the mynas and pigeons and crows they commonly see around the valley. Today we saw 30 species of birds on our walk from the hostel to Gokarna Forest and the students could identify most by themselves! They get so excited about the new birds that they get to add to their lists, but also take pleasure in recognizing their favorite bulbuls and kingfishers. As we walk I hear shouts behind me the whole way – “Karen! Wagtail!” Or, “Black Drongo!” Or, “Loooook!”

The natural passion these nascent birders have for their new hobby is inspiring. They’re taking notes fervently and learning so quickly that I believe they will be able to lead a good bird walk in the next month or two! It is my hope that they will be able to do just that by the time I leave…at least to take their sponsors or donors for a walk if it suits the occasion.

We meet at 7am and usually do a bit of classroom time learning some ornithology basics. During this precious time, often while waiting for fog to lift, we discuss everything from a bird’s unique biology, to conservation of the matchless diversity found in Nepal. We then take off directly from their hostel home to hike through agricultural fields, forests, and sometimes steep terrain, on a literal treasure hunt for new species.

Getting closer looks at the birds they spot is possible because of their beloved binoculars. They are using 8 pairs of Vortex binoculars that were donated by Jim and Alice and by Eagle Optics . One boy said that he feels like he is eavesdropping on the birds’ privacy! I have rarely seen kids so moved by a gift, truly appreciating that it is meant to enable them to discover something valuable. They are all so grateful and seem to be soaking up everything I have to teach them. I love how they pair up, and squeeze together to share the binox so willingly...

About the students. The class consists of 14 high school students who live at the Kailash Hostel. Financial support for this boarding home comes from the Himalayan Children’s Foundation based here in Nepal. The hostel is home to 90 kids from ages 4 years through high school. They are all kids from villages in the high Himalaya; mostly very remote places too far from the nearest school to attend. Nearly all of them have parents but cannot live with them for a variety of heartbreaking reasons. Many are orphans and have spent their lives here at the hostel where every single kid says that they are very happy and feel that this is their home. The staff and residents are their family. The hostel is a joyful place to visit and I really look forward to meeting them there each week.

I'll post more bird photos and lists soon.... Our last weekend will be a walk out to the clear streams & waterfalls of Sudarijial!

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