Across the parking lot and at the mercy of the wind were the birders. They stood at the foot of a large building; the museum known as the Ohio History Connection (OHC). My mother told me I’d been here before when I was young, but for the life of me, I could not remember even the faintest sliver of what were behind its doors.
My thoughts turned back to the group of individuals standing in a circle; the birders. My birders. It warmed my heart to see so many of the familiar faces, and I jumped out of the car before the engine stopped humming. I was met instantly with a chorus of “hello’s” and “It’s Katelyn’s!” I answered them with the biggest hugs and smiles I could manage.
OYBC’s central chapter’s advisors, Darlene Sillick and Maria Dellapina, were there to welcome me. Tom Sheley, who I’d met a few times before, had naturally tagged along to lead the young birders in revamping OHC’s bird feeding stations, being the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) on Sawmill Road.
Among those who had joined us was a new face; his name was David Dyer. Being a Curator of Natural History at OHC, he was to lead our group on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Natural History Collections Facility, where we would have the opportunity to see nearly 300,000 preserved species of Ohio.
My fellow young birders’ eyes twinkled at the thought, and we hopped into a carpool as soon as we could.
When we pulled up to our destination, I had a brief moment of thought. Are we lost? The buildings we approached — white, blah, and standing in a patch of cement — weren’t nearly as conspicuous as I imagined.
As we filed through the door to one of the structures, however, it became very clear to me why, perhaps, the buildings were not meant to catch the eye.
They were warehouses, filled with thousands of specimens and historical artifacts, a true treasure to protect. I liked the idea of keeping these things hidden; let alone in plain sight along the side of a busy road. No one would ever guess what was stored in these buildings.
David Dyer gave a brief yet thorough history of his and OHC’s involvement with the specimens. He explained that all of the creatures had passed before they had been taken, and lots of bones had come from people like us.
Mr. Dyer started with jars of snakes preserved in alcohol, and then showed us carefully prepared bird species, like swans, herons, and waterfowl. He proudly showcased the collection of Great Horned Owls, some of them prepared by the John Wheaton and dating back to times around the Civil War. We even had the chance to meet, in a sense, the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet.
My friends and I wondered what stories those birds could tell us.
Our host continued down the cabinets, helping us guess which bones came from who and teaching us what purposes the bones served to their owners and to research. We gazed with admiration at Cecropia Moths, stick bugs, and beetles.
We got the opportunity to hold the beasts’ teeth, which were large and pretty heavy. The Mastodons’ teeth had about 4-5 rows of points, while the Wooly Mammoths’ teeth resembled a piece of corral, or a rock; anything but what it was meant to be. Now I could identify the difference between Mastodons and Wooly Mammoths by tooth!
After examining more elephant-like bones and gaping in awe at the visual representation of their height on the wall ( 9-11 feet! ), we moved along to the dry-freezing lab.
There, we were informed by Mr. Dyer how specimens’ skeletons are cleaned by meat-eating beetles (who were quite friendly compared to their depiction in movies ) and other specimens are preserved by a dry-freezing machine.
Mr. Dyer explained fondly of how he wished to volunteer when he was our ages and work with the OHC, and how over the years he accomplished his goal after getting his college degree. After that encouraging remark, we set off for the museum’s bird feeding station.
We piled up with Tom Sheley’s tools and supplies and walked through the Museum to the bird feeding outdoor station. Indoors, it was quiet and dim. I admired a grand set of stairs in the center, and proudly recognized a Mastodon skeleton.
As we continued past all exhibits, it struck me that I didn’t know much about Ohio’s history. I made a note to myself to return; for now, I took in what all I could observe.
Reaching our destination, we took in the surroundings, filled with boxes of rotting wood and feeders of rust. They sure do need an upgrade! I was excited to help refresh the place with the central Ohio Young Birders Club and supplies donated by Tom Sheley and Darlene..
The general plan was to take down the worn-out feeders and boxes and replace them with new ones. Soon, the area burst into activity as young birders and adults alike split into several working groups, all with a different project to be completed.
I joined Mr. Sheley and my friends Raul, Matthew, and Anna to help install a wooden pole; complete with a huge hopper feeder from Charlie Zepp and baffle given to us by WBU. As we braced our creation, another group was in the process of hanging brand new nyger seed and peanut feeders. A second group prepared at platform feeder, while yet another group installed a new hummingbird feeder.
Slowly, the area was coming into shape. A few people cleared gunk out of the pond, and Raul and I teamed up to take down the old, rotting bird boxes. While we were busy with filling the feeders, a small group set up new bird houses.
Within an hour or so, OHC’s bird feeding station was up and running with new glamour. And it was a good thing too.
Angry storm clouds loomed over our heads and the wind picked up. The group began to disperse and cars rolled away. I and a few others hovered behind, doing the last little bits of clean up, and finally saying, “See you next time,” and “Take care!”
Our team on May 19th hoped the new establishment would attract many birds for visitors to watch, and maybe inspire these people to set up their own feeders. I marveled at the prospect that one small effort to aid wildlife could lead to so many more.
OYBC and it’s friends were planting seeds that day, in a sense. With a gentle blow of wind from the OHC, these seeds were bound to spread and flower into any niche they could find, bringing along bird songs and critters from every corner.
Katelyn Shelton is a member of the Youth Advisory Board of the Central Ohio Chapter of the Ohio Young Birders Club.