Audubon Center & Sanctuary at Beidler Forest
Mount Pleasant, SC
Senior Birding Program
While her husband was serving in WWII, Amy Henderson never missed a day of bird watching at her window. For years, she recorded the comings and goings of her backyard visitors. Her daily visits to the window provided a sense of continuity and beauty through a difficult and uncertain time.
Henderson, 93, is one of the most passionate participants in the senior birding program run through the Audubon Center & Sanctuary at Beidler Forest in Mount Pleasant, SC. The program's visionary teacher, dedicated Beidler volunteer Ann Tiller, has spent the last several years fulfilling a lifelong aspiration of hers: teaching birding classes at nursing homes and "bringing back memories, guiding people to have interactive discussions, and helping people to become active participants in the world around them."
"I ask [the participants] to tell me if they remember any bird stories from their lives or their childhoods," says Tiller. One resident who suffered from dementia spoke up for the first time in months to point out a pattern shaped like a bluebird on a nearby tablecloth. Henderson remembered her sister standing on the back of the family horse as she scooped an egg out of a nest with a teaspoon. When local Boy Scouts offered to help build feeders for the program, the residents had fun reminiscing about their own Scouting experiences. "More than a few have been Scout leaders," Tiller recalls.
Tiller estimates that she has visited over 120 residents in five nursing homes in the Mount Pleasant area. "I visit each home every week for about 8 to 9 months," says Tiller. "That way people begin to recognize me and know why I am there. It also gives them a chance to talk and relate to each other. Most of them don't know each other."
Tiller stimulates conversation between residents with bird-themed matching games, puzzles, and magazines-many of which she was able to secure though a donation from the Charleston Quilter's Guild. Her lessons range from binocular use to birdcall recognition. If there are no birds to observe, Tiller props paper birds in trees and plays recorded birdcalls. Over the course of an 8-month program, Tiller watches as participants slowly come out of their shells and begin to join in the conversation.
As she wrapped up one program at a favorite nursing home, Tiller joked that she had run out of birds to talk about. "They couldn't believe that I would leave them. One participant looked me square in the eye and said 'There are thousands of birds on this earth. You could go on for years.'" Learn more »
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