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Mountain Sun Students Work with Birds at Southern Appalachian Raptor

By Kayla C. Leed | Brevard, NC

Mountain Sun students trekked to the the Big Bald Banding Station to aid the Southern Appalachian Raptor Research Center (SARR) in their conservation practices. On September 14th and 15th, the Monarch (4th-5th graders) students participated in raptor trapping, owl banding, hawk watching, and songbird migration monitoring.

Big Bald Banding Station is located on the Appalachian Trail at an elevation of 5,500 feet. SARR is a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers.

This was the fourth trip the Monarch class has taken to SARR. On this trip students were responsible for setting up tents, cooking dinner, cleaning, and water collection, in addition to volunteering with SARR. This was the first independent camping experience for some of the younger students. They were able to challenge themselves and learn to work collaboratively and independently within the group.

“Our experience at Big Bald last week was amazing! And, it was different from any other time we’ve been there before. We were, literally, in a cloud the majority of the time. As we climbed in elevation, the temperature dropped and we immediately bundled up in the layers we were grateful for packing,” said lead teacher, Becky Langerman.

Due to environmental factors, “We didn’t catch as many birds this year,” a Monarch student observed. He participated in the trip last year and was excited for this year’s trip to learn more about the birds and spend time in the outdoors with his classmates.

Langerman explained, “We quickly learned from Mark (SARR volunteer) that the numbers of netted birds were low this year. In fact, there were no birds in the nets that first afternoon. While it’s uncertain why this is so (the data will later be correlated with other factors), Mark suspects that the weather is playing a huge part, especially Irma.”
Prior to the trip, the students were assigned a bird to become an expert on. Assistant Monarch Teacher, Kim Skeen said, “This involves researching the bird and drawing a detailed, colored illustration of the bird. All of this information is being compiled to create the Monarch Class Bird Guide. The students also completed a Big Bald Banding Station research prior to the trip. Many of the students had the opportunity to see ‘their’ birds when we went to Big Bald.”


The students will participate in three more camping trips this school year, including their annual trip to Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center, a trip to Congaree National Park, and a final backpacking trip in Bracken Mountain Preserve. Each trip is tied into the thematic units of the year. Because the students stay in the same class for multiple years, they are able to become more independent and confident on each trip.

Multidisciplinary experiential learning is a key component of the educational philosophy at Mountain Sun Community School. This trip integrated multiple subjects: math, science, language, writing, geography, and it created many opportunities for personal and group development.

The trip also included a night lesson on Saw-whet Owls. During this lesson, the clouds parted for a moment, and the students were able to see several constellations, the Milky Way, and shooting stars. They are looking forward to next year’s trip to Big Bald Banding Station to have more discoveries of migrating songbirds and raptors of the Southern Appalachians.

Mountain Sun Community School is a nonprofit 501c3 independent school in Brevard, NC. Mountain Sun serves children ages 3 through middle school and combines Montessori education with outdoor exploration, artistic creativity, and community service. Please visit http://mountainsunschool.org/or call 828.885.2555 for more information.

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