Category Archives: EcoKids

Meet Owen the Birder

Owen Lawson

More than 800 birders took part in Bird-a-thon, Mass Audubon’s annual fundraiser where teams spend 24 hours competing to see (or hear) the most species. But this year Owen Lawson, age 6, stood out.

Along with his dad, Justin, the first-grader at the Elmwood Street Elementary School in Millbury recorded 102 species, and raised $230 for Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester.

But Bird-a-thon is just one part of Owen’s master plan. Since the beginning of 2014, he’s been pursuing his own “Little Big Year” in New England. (“Big Year” refers the quest by birders to identify the most species in North America in a calendar year.)

Owen’s original goal for 2014 was 200 species. But as of today, he’s already at 220! Many of these species were spotted using a pair of well-worn binoculars. “I use my grammy’s,” Owen said. “It’s much easy to pick up, because my dad’s is more heavier.”

Speaking of dad, it’s little surprise that Owen’s favorite birding partner is his father, who serves as trip planner, driver, and bird mentor. “When I go with my dad, I see lots of stuff,” he said.

For Justin Lawson, birding is a serious avocation, but his wishes for Owen are to see beyond the birds, to make a broad connection with nature. “I want my sons to be educated about the outdoors, but more important, develop an early appreciation for it.”

Owen is already on his way emulating his father as a birding mentor. “I think when I grow up I want to tell my kids about birds,” he said. “And I always make sure to tell my little brother when I see a bird.”

Justin is clearly doing a good job. In addition to birds and birding, Owen is intrigued by tide pools, and the critters he spies in the shallows. A whale-watch is on tap for this summer. And he plays on baseball and soccer teams.

As Owen puts it, “I guess I just like running around and looking at stuff. And up at the sky.”

Some Owen the Birder fun facts:

  • Started birding two years ago
  • Has now birded in 10 states
  • First Bird: Merlin, at Worcester airport
  • Best Bird of 2014: Painted Bunting
  • Number of “life birds”: 235
  • Favorite bird: Great Grey Owl (seen only in picture books—so far)

Follow along on Owen’s Little Big Year by checking out the Lawsons’ blog, which includes pictures taken by Owen and check out his fundraising page.

18 Camps, One Important Accreditation

campcounselorsAmanda Zoellner, who works at Wildwood, Mass Audubon’s overnight camp in Rindge, New Hampshire, sheds light on the importance of a summer camp being accredited by the American Camp Association.

What do camp directors do in the winter? Most Mass Audubon camp directors coordinate and teach other sanctuary programs during the school year, but they also spend significant time preparing for the upcoming camp season—including maintaining their camps’ American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation.

All 18 Mass Audubon summer camps are ACA-accredited (that includes day camps and our overnight camp, Wildwood). Accreditation helps our camps reach a higher level, beyond the minimums required by state licensing. Accredited camps uphold up to 300 standards for camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. For a large organization like Mass Audubon, the standards help ensure consistency among our diverse camps—each has unique attributes, but all adhere to the same standards.

ACA accreditation is a valuable tool to assist camp directors in thinking critically about our programs, continually refining our policies and procedures to ensure smooth, safe operations, as well as quality camp experiences for campers and staff. The ACA standards are updated regularly as the best practices for camp operations evolve, and camp directors are guided by the standards as they plan programs for the upcoming summer, hire staff, and participate in professional development.

Every three years, each accredited camp hosts an accreditation visit. After reviewing the camp’s written materials before the summer begins, a team of ACA-trained visitors spends a day at camp to observe the program in action. A camp’s accreditation visit is an exciting day for camp staff and for its ACA visitors. The visitors verify that the camp is upholding its standards and following appropriate policies and procedures, but it’s also a welcome opportunity for our camp staff to introduce others to the programs we are proud of, and to learn from our peers in the camp professional community.

I’ve volunteered as an ACA accreditation visitor since I was trained in 2007 and have visited several camps each summer since. Several other Mass Audubon camp professionals are also trained as visitors, and we agree that accreditation is a worthwhile process, for visitors as well as for the camps being visited. I have never visited a camp without learning about something I can take back to my own camp—and when you love camp like I do, it’s just plain fun to see other camps! When it’s my camp’s turn to have an ACA visit, I am always proud to share the programs at my camp.

Learn more online about ACA accreditation, or speak with the camp director at your nearest Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary!