Thursday, June 29, 2006

Birding for the Blind

With the growing emphasis on birdsong, it makes sense that birders reach out to blind individuals and share the aural delights of birding. In Newburyport, Mass., the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Lowell Association for the Blind lead blind folks through Parker River Wildlife National Refuge.

Joe O'Neil of Chelmsford, who was blinded as an infant when cancer attacked his retinas, was taking it all in.

"It's really nice to be able to identify these things by what they sound like and you don't have to see them," he said. "There are a lot of different things to learn here."

The instruction that day went well beyond bird calls, and the volunteers who led the members through the swampy areas were taken back by all that their charges were taking in.

"It's a very humbling experience," said Ellen Kunkel, an Audubon volunteer from Chelmsford. "We're all so used to seeing the world around us. It's interesting to see how someone who doesn't have that sense relates to the world."

One competitive birding event -- the Great Texas Birding Classic -- added a tournament for blind birders in 2004: the Outta-Sight Songbirder tournament. Here's one account, and here's another (check out the binocular designed like eyeglasses).

Do you lead birdwalks for blind folks? Do you know of organizations that do?

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