Joyanne Hamilton At the Innoko River Junior and Senior High School in the small village of Shageluk, Alaska, secondary teacher Joyanne Hamilton teaches her students the importance of understanding seasonal and environmental changes and how they affect local wildlife. An Extraordinary Visit Joyanne saw firsthand how environmental shifts can bring the extraordinary to her own backyard when a Brambling ventured 200 miles inland to her village on the Innoko River. This type of Eurasian finch typically winters in southern Europe, North Africa, northern Pakistan, northern India, China, and Japan, though occasionally a few will wander into Alaska along the western Aleutian Islands. Four sightings have been reported on the mainland in the coastal villages of Anchorage, Homer, on Kodiak Island, and in Petersburg in the Southeast, but this was a first for Shageluk. Brambling by Joyanne Hamilton In September 2007, the Brambling made its first appearance at Joyanne’s feeders and stayed for about a month before moving on. Biologist Susan Sharbaugh of the Alaska Bird Observatory in Fairbanks first confirmed the Brambling’s identification based on photos Joyanne sent. Joyanne wrote, “Unfortunately, other than the photos, my students didn’t get a chance to actually see it. By the time we made arrangements for them to come to my house, the bird had stopped coming. I was devastated!” Though her students did not get to see the Brambling firsthand, the unusual visitor offered a unique element to their classroom discussion on climate change. Students Study Environmental Shifts Charity, Innoko River School Student, photo by Joyanne Hamilton For over a decade, Joyanne has participated in Citizen Science projects like Project FeederWatch with her class, help her students learn about wildlife migration and local habitat. FeederWatching from their classroom windows, her students study the “fly-ways” and feeding patterns of the birds that visit. By the time the Brambling arrived in her backyard, Joyanne says her students were “pretty savvy already about the possible route the bird took” to Shageluk. Having studied the weather systems that roll up the Aleutians, her students concluded the Brambling was probably “just blown off course in one of the storms.” Jacob, Innoko River School Student, photo by Joyanne Hamilton In addition to the excitement in her classroom, the Brambling’s visit spotlighted Shageluk, inspiring the Fairbanks Daily-News Miner to feature a story on the tiny village. Home to less than 130 Native Alaskans, Shageluk is a traditional Athabaskan community that depends on migratory birds and fish for subsistence. “People’s ties with the land and animals are still very strong,” Joyanne explained. For this reason, she believes understanding environmental and seasonal changes and how they affect those animals is crucial to the survival of Native Alaskan cultures. The Innoko River School Students, Shageluk, Alaska, photo by Joyanne Hamilton As a teacher, Joyanne has provided opportunities for her students to make educated observations and conclusions on their own, instilling in them a curiosity and desire for environmental awareness. “Programs like Project FeederWatch enable local observations to be made and validated by western-‘raised’ scientists,” she wrote, “I really love that.” FeederWatching Tips Everett at the feeder, photo by Joyanne Hamilton Joyanne suggests putting feeders near cover: “Often the birds will chow down at the feeders, but if something threatens their dining, they like to have those tall trees right there to fly to.” Hanging her feeders in and around trees, she keeps them stocked with black-oil sunflower seeds and sometimes combines millet and wild bird seed to see what the seeds will attract. In addition, she provides suet and spreads peanut butter on a nearby tree branch. When asked what attracted the Brambling to her feeders, she suspected it was the sunflower seeds, though she says, “The Alaska Bird Observatory people told me it was probably after the millet.” Innoko River School Students filling containers of seeds for their feeders, photo by Joyanne Hamilton Though Joyanne was heartbroken to see the Brambling go after spending a month at her feeders, she is still enjoying the discussion it stirred up in her classroom and the excitement it brought to Shageluk.