NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — I strongly believe that the liberal arts education is all about taking classes to teach you fun facts that you can later use to annoy people. It’s about immersing yourself into an environment you know nothing about and hoping for the best. It’s about hating your life for how much work you have to do, but knowing in the end you’ll come out with more knowledge and a new understanding of the world. It’s about learning every single day, whether you’re in a classroom or not.
The Tweetspeak cluster was most definitely a liberal arts experience that won’t be forgotten. Starting off in the beginning barely knowing what a bird is made it extremely frustrating to go out in the field and be expected to identify the most basic of birds. Looking back on it, I am amazed that there was a point in my life that I couldn’t identify a Black-capped Chickadee or Tufted Titmouse. Now I have the knowledge to take a look at a bird, and do my best to find it in a field guide and identify it. Starting with the size and shape, color and pattern, habitat, and behavior, I can use that knowledge to help my dad identify “that weird brown bird with some feathers” he’s been dying to know all about.
One of the most eye opening experiences during the class was when we went to Jennings Environmental Center for the second time. The first time, we had gone quite early in the semester and at that point, I was still struggling to know the most common birds. A few months later and I was significantly better at identifying species. Jennings has such a wide variety of habitats, and we managed to see even more than last time.
Having a more in depth knowledge of the birds there allowed us to notice more about the habitat, since there was less time with our noses in our field guides. For example, in the prairie of Jennings, I noticed a sign stating that the area was a “Prescribed Burn Area.” As the daughter of a firefighter, I quickly questioned why someone would intentionally set something on fire, especially since forest fires are seen as so destructive.
Though it seems counteractive, prescribed fires are actually very necessary in many habitats. Prescribed burning is seen as restoring the natural process of prairie fires that used to occur regularly. Without the natural fires, forests would start to grow back. This may seem like a good thing, but many species rely on the low vegetation prairies offer.
Eastern Bluebirds live in open areas such as meadows, grasslands, and prairies. At the prairie at Jennings we observed a male and female bluebird checking out the nest boxes in the field. Without the prescribed burning, the prairie would continue to grow into a forest, where bluebirds typically do not live. By eliminating the prairie, you eliminate the habitat of many species such as the Field Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Tree Swallow. We saw each of these in the field at Jennings. To think they would have no habitat without prescribed burning is nothing short of surprising.
Though seemingly insignificant, my ability to question the prescribed burn area demonstrates how far this class has taken us as a whole. In the beginning, I would have looked at it and moved on. Now I am able to question why the habitat needs it and do the research to figure it out.