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Kids get birds-eye view of Earth Day
Youngsters experience nature hands-on at Elachee event
A black vulture named Cayce glides over the crowd Saturday afternoon at Elachee Nature Science Center during a special raptor program from Save Our American Raptors Inc. The program featured appearances from several owls, hawks and a bald eagle as part of the center's Earth Day celebration. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS The Times

They're so soft!" Emily McGarr said as Rebecca Nelson nodded in agreement about the caterpillar the two had been holding moments before.

McGarr and Nelson, both members of the Brownie Girl Scouts and students at Sardis Elementary, were among the 75 to 100 people who visited Elachee Nature Science Center on Saturday to see a special birding program in honor of Earth Day, which is Tuesday. Both McGarr and Nelson earned their "Earth is Our Home" Scout badges.

McGarr claimed that she wasn't afraid of the little caterpillar."I'm good with nature," said McGarr, who also was excited to see the birds.

Peter Gordon, education director at Elachee Nature Science Center, is in charge of the birding program at Elachee.

"Our focus here today is Earth Day," Gordon said. "We're looking at things in our environment, and one of the great things in the environment is birds of prey and birds in general, so we're trying to cover all aspects of this."

Gordon welcomed John and Dale Stokes of Save Our American Raptors Inc. to speak about the environment and display a few of the birds that inhabit it.

Gordon also realizes that in the high-tech world in which we live, it's important for children to learn about the environment.

"It's getting more and more difficult for boys and girls to play in nature. They know a lot about it, but they've learned it from their TVs and their computers," he said. "Here's an opportunity to come out in a natural setting, and see how much fun it can be, how interesting it can be and how important it is. There are some wonderful lessons out here that kids could learn and not even realize they're learning them."

Dale Stokes began by talking about how predators keep a balance in nature. They eat the weak, the sick and the extra. The birds that she and her husband brought along were all previously injured birds that couldn't take care of themselves in the wild.

Some of the birds that the children were able to meet included two eastern screech owls who were hit by cars, leaving one with a broken wing and the other blind in one eye. Dale Stokes told the group that "screech owls actually whistle more than screech."

The audience also met a red-tailed hawk from Wyoming named Cody who was found starving beside a road. Cody was one of several birds who flew over the audience. The crowd also met Cayce, a black vulture or "buzzard" who "thinks she's a dog sometimes," Dale Stokes said. Cayce followed behind her, almost hopping around, just like a puppy would its owner.

The next bird out was correctly identified by Rebecca Nelson as a bald eagle, whose name, Atsa Yazhi, was chosen by Navajo children. Atsa Yazhi suffered an injured wing after being shot.

In honor of Earth Day, the Stokes spoke about different ways that everyone can help the environment. Their suggestions included conserving energy by turning off lights and video games when they're not in use and by purchasing reusable bags to avoid using plastic bags, which can be harmful to the environment.

"If we care enough about something, we can save it," John Stokes said.