Monday, April 14, 2008

“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

April 2, 2008
For immediate release
Contact: Daniel Edelstein,, 415-382-1827,


“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

Thirty-five Merritt College students in one classroom is a challenge for any instructor, but how about the same number on a narrow nature trail listening to an American Robin?

Or was that a Black-headed Grosbeak?

Both birds sound similar.

Merritt College Adjunct Faculty Biology Instructor Daniel Edelstein (M.S.) is the one to tell you the difference. He’s been identifying bird songs for more than 30 years.

So it’s no surprise, as he peeks over the shrubs in the low-growth forest that abuts the sprawling East Bay junior college’s hillside environs, that he announces a nearby skulking Spotted Towhee’s voice has revealed its hidden presence in the nearby dense shrubs. The lively song of a Bewick’s Wren is next heard. Then a more rare Hermit Thrush sings, or so says the trained ear of Edelstein (who is able to identify more than 500 birds by their distinctive calls and songs).

For his Merritt College class that begins on the evening of April 17 (as the first lecture/slide show (7-10 pm) of three (4/17, 4/24, 5/1/08) along with five all-day field trips (9 – 5 pm) (4/20, 4/26, 4/27, 5/3, 5/4/08) to prime Bay Area birding landscapes where diverse songs are heard during the spring), the 50-year-old Edelstein explains:
“Sure, people enjoy learning bird songs from among the more than 75 different singing and calling species that are common on the landscape this time of year. But there’s plenty of other hands-on, interactive devices I employ to make the class fun and interesting – from slides, videos, DVDs, handouts, bibliographies/resources, and Internet Web site searches related to song ecology in the classroom to “ears-on” (i.e., hands-on, interactive) techniques on the field trips that utilize my iPod (that plays songs with the aid of a portable speaker), a SonicEar amplifier that you wear as a headset (to more easily hear the bird vocalizations in the field), and binoculars (that I lend to students for free, if they don’t have a pair).”

Students wishing to register for the class may do so online at or The class appears as both a biology (BIOL 80B) and environmental studies class (ENVIRO 80B) at the aforementioned Web sites with students needing to also note the class section as 1515 or 1516, respectively. Students may take the class as pass/fail or for credit (variable from .5 to 2.5 credits, depending on a student’s preference).

In closing, Edelstein explained that he’s glad to have students attend a portion of the class’s offerings, if they cannot attend all three lectures and all five field trips. “The important goal is to get students out listening and enjoying the amazing landscape of birds with which we host our world,” Edelstein said. He adds: “Learning a few new songs of different species each spring season is a lot of fun for students. A lot of the songs sound similar so I call them "Difficult Decisions," in terms of, for example, telling a trilling Chipping Sparrow from a similar-sounding Dark-eyed Junco.

"But what's birding without a challenge?" he continued. "Besides, in my class, students like knowing the reasons why birds sing, how they sing, how they learn to sing, and new techniques to distinguish them from sound-alike bird species. I guess that’s why my most popular handout sheet is called “Top Ten Techniques for Identifying Birds By Ear.”

Edelstein, who possesses a master’s degree in Natural Resources, has presented his bird song-related presentations in more than 20 states nationwide. As a wildlife biologist for the Santa Rosa-based SCS Engineers, he conducts field surveys for animals (including birds) and plants.

To learn more about the class, contact him at and/or see his Web site ( where there’s a link to register for the class (through the home page’s “Classes/Slide Shows/Education” button at the home page). The Web site also features free, printer-friendly birding information specific to the Bay Area and northern California, including a Nature Watch Calendar; a list of bird migrant arrival times in the Bay Area; 200 or more bird song memory devices, and a wood-warbler tips identification chart.


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