Elizabeth Gonzalez: Taking Flight

In the spring of 2015, I received a travel grant to study bird watching at my alma mater- Cornell University. It was an exciting opportunity to go back to school and experience Cornell at its best. After all, “Ithaca is Gorges” during the summer months. What could be better than taking a class with world renowned professors at the Lab of Ornithology and not have to worry about prelims, papers or grades.

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about birds and also to return to the place that played such an important role in my life. I had been teaching a bird curriculum in my Kindergarten classroom since 1996, but I had never taken a formal bird watching class. Over the years, I amassed a number of books and learned from them. I felt confident in my knowledge of birds, yet I continually sought opportunities to learn more professionally.

In July of 2015, I found myself sitting in a familiar classroom setting in Goldwin Smith Hall and met my professors and fellow bird watchers for the week. Nine out of fourteen students were Alumni and the range in age was vast. It was exciting to meet a woman from the class 1957 who was the only female studying Engineering while at Cornell. Our love for birds and our desire to learn more about them brought us all to Ithaca.

My group at the Lab of Ornithology

Massive glass wall at the Lab of Ornithology overlooking a pond at Sapsucker Woods.

Wall of Silhouettes at the Lab of Ornithology

Mural spans wall and 375 million-year avian history

Lecture room/private library at the Lab of Ornithology

Our days began at the Lab of Ornithology, located in the Sapsucker Woods, early in the morning. We set out with binoculars in our hands and our professors immediately taught us how to locate birds based on color, shape, and song. After a long morning of bird watching, we had a break before we sat in a conference room and learned more about birds during a short lecture on bird evolution, identification, behavior, and diversity. In addition to bird watching and lectures, we also had the opportunity to help band birds and be a part of a focus group that was developing the All About Birds website.

My summer attending “Taking Flight: An Introduction to the World of Birds,” was full of learning and bonding with my peers. It reinvigorated me to return to LREI and teach my Kindergarteners new techniques for spotting birds. My experience at the Lab of Ornithology also introduced me to new bird resources and a new found passion for my Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds.