As some patrons and employees of the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia will tell you, bird watching is harder than it looks.
Catching multiple glimpses of Maryland's diverse avian population on one of the center's nature trails tends to be more the exception than the rule. That likelihood further decreases during events like school field trips, which the center often entertains, where the chatter of anxious children acts as bird repellent.
"When you are on a field trip, you aren't going to see anything," said Meagan Leatherbury, program manager at the nature center.
Well, at least that's the way it used to be.
Thanks to Ellicott City Girl Scout Allison Seitz and members of the Howard County Woodworker's Guild, the Nature Center can promise schools and other community organizations they will, at the very least, see intricate, life-like wood carvings of local birds, which Seitz has displayed at different points throughout the trails.
"The kids are usually so loud on the trail they don't get to see any birds. The wooden birds are there as a stand-in almost. They can't fly away," said Seitz, 18, at the nature center on Aug. 17. "It adds a connection with nature for the little ones. They get to see the birds in their natural habitat, their sizes, shapes and colors, and they get to learn about the birds in their backyard."
The woodworkers guild carved the birds and Seitz, after researching the different species, hung the dozen or so carvings along the trails at places where a particular bird would be seen.
David McCann, a member of the guild, said he was "pleased to be involved with a project that could utilize the carvings in a unique way, and allow families and individuals to enjoy them as they walk the Robinson trails."
On Saturday, Seitz, for the first time, conducted a program she created to go along with the project. Seitz did the project to fulfill her Girl Scout Gold Award, a rigorous undertaking akin to the Boy Scout's Eagle Scout award. The program included a presentation on birds of Maryland, a walk through one of the nature center's trails and a themed craft for children.
The nature center staff had originally asked Seitz to research the birds and create a brochure to complement the guild's wood carvings, but it was her idea to add the presentation for a more interactive experience.
"I had the idea of making a class out of it," she said "I wanted to leave a lasting impression for the Robinson Nature Center."
According to Seitz, creating something of enduring value is crucial to the Gold Award project. Seitz said it is one of many criteria the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland considers during the Gold Award application process.
But on a day like Saturday, when Seitz gets to lead a small group of young children and parents through the trail, all her work is rewarded.
"It's exciting to seem them excited about the birds. It feels like all my work wasn't just for the (Girl Scouts), it was for the kids," she said after the presentation. "It was definitely worth it."
Ellicott City parent Linda Gousis, who attended the presentation with her son, Nicholas, 5, and daughter, Allison, 2, said projects like this foster bonds with nature.
"With the displays on the trails, it's gratifying for the kids because they can experience nature in a small area," Gousis said.
Gousis, a former Girl Scout, said supporting Seitz was an added bonus.
"When I saw it was for a Girl Scout to get her Gold Award, I said I definitely want to do that," she said.
Seitz, who said she is the only member of her troop applying for the Gold Award, still has some paper work to finish up before the process is complete. However, the lion's share of the work, along with her Girl Scout career, is behind her.
"The leadership experiences I have had in Girl Scouts has been a positive throughout my life," said Seitz, who joined the organization as a kindergartner.
Seitz, a Mt. Hebron High School graduate, has enrolled at Salisbury University, where she will study business management.
Jim Joyner of the Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.