“Just three more minutes, Mom!” my daughter begged from the playroom.
No way. The cartoons needed to be turned off, iPads tucked away, and video games muted. She and I were heading to Wing Haven, one of Charlotte’s little gems. Actually, this garden and bird sanctuary, in the heart of Myers Park, sprawls over four acres. It became a Charlotte-Mecklenburg local historic landmark in 1970 and National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat in 1980. Today, Wing Haven plays host to a variety of family and child-friendly events like art and nature classes, summer camps, story times, and homeschooler programs throughout the year.
Last December, my daughter Nora and I visited for the “Holiday Trees for Wildlife” event and had such a good time we wanted to return this month for The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) at Wing Haven. We reserved a spot to help “bird” and showed up ready to help. Birding involves focused time watching and listening for birds. This particular birding session involved recording notes to help scientists who study birds, as part of a collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. We noted what kinds of birds and how many we spotted or heard so that the data could be shared as part of a bigger, national GBBC effort. Wing Haven opens its space to the public for free to be part of this special project each year.
The welcoming Wing Haven staff gave us a choice to use old-fashioned clipboard and pencil or the designated app for this activity. Whenever I can, I opt out of high tech in favor of back-to-basics; however, I realize my kids are digital natives in a way I was not as a child. I am willing to adapt in some ways, but I do my best to create opportunities for them to detach from the digital world, too. Pencil, notepad, and field guide in hand, we set out!
Nora and I pretended to be a Nat Geo team. She told me what to write down. (“Mom, look, another cardinal. I think that might be a hawk up there. That makes four cardinals and three hawks.”) And I asked her to look up certain bird species’ pictures in the index to see if we could figure out what we had just seen. Talk about an organic literacy moment.
The two of us felt like legit naturalists as we roamed paths, binoculars dangling from our necks. My little girl felt quite big when she showed one of the volunteers a nest she had identified. I felt similarly proud of myself when I accurately detected an unseen crow by only its “caw caw, caw caw” call. The volunteer helped us figure out whether we might have discovered a mockingbird or sparrow in a flowering tree. She also explained some fun facts like what “pishing” means (making noises with your mouth to attract birds) and how Barred Owls are somewhat diurnal as well as nocturnal.
At the end of our research, Nora begged for a few more minutes as she had done that morning when trying to finish another episode of Bunk’d. This time, though, it was to enjoy the spread of treats set out for birders: hot cocoa, tea, coffee, fruit, and muffins. Nora was presented a certificate of achievement and beamed proudly while she sipped. It was a lovely day on many accounts.
The GBBC has ended for 2022, but there are plenty of upcoming Wing Haven happenings on the calendar. I personally have my eye on the “Naturalist Egg Hunt” and “Backyard Gardening Workshop” in April (both available as a.m. or p.m. times) and “Tea Time in the Garden” in May. There is plenty to explore in the SEED Wildlife & Children’s Garden for unstructured visits, and memberships are available for discounted admission.
For those of us parents who became aspiring gardeners and meditators during the pandemic, Wing Haven has plenty of adult opportunities as well to unplug, learn, and connect. Happenings include lecture series, plant sales, social gatherings, and members-only events. Of course, you can always just visit to sit in silence and enjoy the gardens’ beauty.
Related Note: I’ve noticed more and more tech integration into natural spaces around town. Reedy Creek has posted smartphone stands along their hiking paths. The thinking is that travelers can capture, hashtag, and share footage and photos to aid in recordkeeping of the natural environment throughout the year. My thinking is how creative, useful, and helpful in keeping our older children more engaged with nature and those around them than their smartphones while outdoors.