Howard County Times
Howard County

At Columbia’s Robinson Nature Center, a class series with seniors in mind

After a brief lesson on identifying birds using size, shape, color and sounds, 10 participants in the Senior Naturalist program at Robinson Nature Center headed outside with instructor Sammy Baker to put the lesson into practice.

A quick lesson was needed outside the Columbia nature center as well before they could hit the trails — how to use binoculars.


“It’s like being at the eye doctor,” someone quipped as Baker held photos of birds for them to identify at a distance.

The birding lesson was the first class of a new monthly series designed for seniors at Robinson Nature Center. Covering topics such as identifying trees and winter astronomy, the Senior Naturalist program is loosely based on the University of Maryland Extension office’s Master Naturalist Volunteer Training program, which “engages individuals as stewards of Maryland’s natural ecosystems” according to the extension office’s website.


Unlike the extension program, which is also offered at the nature center, the Senior Naturalist program does not require participants to complete 60 hours of training or volunteer 40 hours per year.

“We had a lot of interest from folks who wanted the content and knowledge but didn’t have the time,” said Meagan Downey, program coordinator at Robinson. “This a more flexible program.”

Participants can register for as many of the sessions as they want. Classes go through the winter, pause in the summer due to the center’s heavy camp schedule, then resume in the fall, Downey said.

“I’ve signed up for all the programs,” said Marianne Beauchamp, of Columbia, who was attending with her friend, Ellicott City resident Liz Loryman.

“I love birds, and this is a whole new variety of birds for me,” said Loryman, a native of Great Britain, as she walked along the center’s trail with a pair of binoculars in hand. “What a great way to learn.”

Sessions are designed to take place outside, which is an added attraction for many during the ongoing pandemic, Downey said.

“With this population, right now most are more comfortable outdoors,” Downey said.

Loryman plans to sign up, as Beauchamp did, for the other upcoming senior programs. She did have one complaint, though.


“I don’t like being called ‘senior,’” Loryman said, chuckling. “A senior in the U.K. is probably 70, not in their 50s. It was a real shock.”

An avid birder, Carla Brezinski, of Ellicott City was visiting the nature center for the first time to participate in the class. Quick to spot and identify birds, Brezinski was thrilled to see a hermit thrush.

“That was pretty nice,” Brezinski said of the sighting. “Sometimes it helps not to rely on yourself to find something different. It’s nice to see what is here and what it has to offer.”

Howard County Times: Top stories

Howard County Times: Top stories


Daily highlights from Howard County's number one source for local news.

Last year, the center had a great response to its new Junior Naturalist programs held on Saturday mornings, Downey said.

“A lot of parents were looking for ways to get kids outdoors and socially active,” Downey said. “The programs were all nature based with topics like ‘Wake Up Wildlife,’ about hibernation. They always received a little badge at the end.”

Lisa Young, a volunteer assisting Baker during the program, has enjoyed helping with the youth programs, too.


“It is really rewarding to see kids progress through the programs,” Young said. “It speaks a lot to the staff and their dedication.”

As she led the bird hike, Baker answered questions and pointed out various birds and nests. At one point, she even stopped and mimicked the call of the white-throated sparrow, one of her favorite winter birds.

“It was a great group,” Baker said as the last participants exited. “It is good to get out and see what we can. Birding is a very peaceful hobby.”

The next Senior Naturalist Program will be held 2:30-4 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 10, at Robinson Nature Center, 6692 Cedar Lane, Columbia. The cost is $12. The topic will be “Naked” Tree ID. 410-313-0400.