WILKES-BARRE — From high on the Market Street Bridge, it looks like about 19 stations with youngsters crowding around each, and that doesn’t count those under the bridge heading for a stroll in the forest. So let’s, um, swoop down on Amy Shull and Megan Fedor as they talk about owls.
“Keep your head still and look all around with just your eyes,” Shull instructed, a tall order for a bunch of antsy elementary students from Wyoming Valley West. The park officers from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources held up a small owl skull, showing how the bone protrudes around the eye, eliminating the peripheral vision humans take for granted.
“Owls can’t do that, that’s why their necks are so flexible,” Shull explained. Humans, she added, have seven vertebrae in their necks. Owls have 14. “They can’t actually spin their heads all the way around,” Shull added. “It just looks that way because they move so fast.”
Shull and Fedor were just two of many experts offering lessons and a little hands-on experience with a wide range of nature topics as part of the Riverfront Parks Committee’s annual Earth Day celebration along the Susquehanna River.
“We do this every year on the Friday before Earth Day,” Committee Executive Director John Maday said. This year it drew about 600 students from 10 schools, despite cool temperatures and an occasional brisk breeze.
Other stations included lessons on levees, collections of furs and skulls from small animals, mosquito traps and a chance to cast for plastic fish swimming on a large blue tarp. “The amazing thing is we are all volunteers,” Maday smiled.
But back to those owls. Shull just finished showing how “soft and fuzzy” owl wing feathers are compared to those of a hawk. They are used to swoop down on prey in silence. A few students backed away in fear when Fedor held up some owl talons.
They followed up with a few true/false questions (Hint, they are all true): Do owls have three eyelids? Are they carnivores? Do they vomit every time they eat?
OK, a few youngsters found that last one a bit gross, but Shull explained it’s a natural result of swallowing prey whole and letting stomach acids do all the work. Bones and other hard stuff that doesn’t break down get chucked up.
Now, when it comes to the raptors made famous in the Harry Potter books, these youngsters are as wise as, well, owls.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish