Spring birding challenge nudges all ages outdoors

Each year, Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College gives nature lovers an extra reason to get off the couch: team birding. The nature center’s Spring Birding Challenge invites teams of up to four adults and any number of children to record and submit their bird sightings for the months of March, April and May.

Lisa Zinn, an avid birder and environmental educator at Merry Lea, oversees the Challenge. Her weekly emails report on sightings and offer clues as to what migrants to look for next. This year, she is also offering a workshop on bird ID Monday, March 12, 3 to 5 p.m. at Merry Lea’s Farmstead Barn site. This is a great way for teams to get started.

“I like the Spring Birding Challenge because it gives us all that little bit of extra motivation that busy people need,” Zinn says. “No matter how much we love birding, it’s still hard to find the time to get out there.” Since birds can be spotted anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Merry Lea, it also gives people a chance to notice nature in their everyday settings.

Birders can compete at three different levels: novice, experienced and super-crazy birders. The novice category is ideal for families just learning the common birds of Indiana. Experienced birders typically sight 80 to 100 species during the season, and previous winners of the super-crazy category have listed over 200 species. This requires traveling to varied habitats and a pretty free schedule. At least two members of the team must see the bird for it to count.

The competition begins March 1, just as the first migrants begin returning. It is not too early to see a robin in a backyard, or hear the jubilant song of the Redwing Blackbird males near water. Waterfowl come through next. Grebes, coots and Hooded Mergansers are among the species that can be spotted in March as water unfreezes. Insect-eaters such as warblers are the last species to migrate, and these colorful midgets keep teams on their toes until the end of May. The friendly competition concludes with a pizza party, photo show and cheers for all participants.

To register a team or attend Merry Lea’s March 12 bird ID workshop, email MLevents@goshen.edu or call 260-799-5869. The cost for the workshop is $5.  A $10 fee is required to enter a team. Teams should register by March 9. You do not need to be on a team to attend the bird ID workshop. For directions, seewww.goshen.edu/merrylea/about/directions.php.

Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College is located in central Noble County, mid-way between Goshen and Fort Wayne and just south of Wolflake, Ind. The property’s 1,189 acres include prairies, woodlands, unique geological features and a variety of wetlands. The center was established with the generosity of Lee and Mary Jane Rieth and in cooperation with The Nature Conservatory.

Editors: For more information about this release or to arrange an interview, contact Jennifer Schrock at (260) 799-5869 or jenniferhs@goshen.edu.


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S. News & World Report‘s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.