This job is for the birds

Auburn teens receive bird-banding permits
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Bill FORTIER South County Notebook
From Auburn to Thompson to Southbridge, we’ve got it covered this week.

Although it begs this question: Can this column really be called the South County Notebook when we talk about Northeast Connecticut?

As they say in management, we’ll get back to you on that, perhaps from Cape Cod, where they might be riding out a pre-Memorial Day weekend nor’easter next week.

Word out of Auburn is that three students from town have received federal bird-banding research permits.

They are 16-year-old Holy Name sophomore Sarah Reich, Auburn High School junior Jill Hetel and St. John’s of Shrewsbury senior Dan Semenuk.

“This is big stuff,” said Auburn Middle School science teacher Mark Blazis. He said you have to be at least 16 years old to get the federal permit. That means nobody any younger than Sarah has ever received one of the permits.

Mr. Blazis, who is retiring at the end of this school after 36 years in education, has been working for many years with seventh-graders at the Auburn Sportsman’s Club in May, September and October on banding migrating birds as well as several other research projects.

He said he’s worked with at least several thousand students through the years and the above trio is first to receive federal permits based on the research they have done. To qualify for the permit, they had to work with a federally-permitted master bander like Mr. Blazis.

He said he knew when the three students first showed up at 5 in the morning at the Sportsman’s Club, when they were seventh-graders, that they were candidates for the federal permit.

“I knew right away,” he said. “We knew we had some special people.”

The students also had to demonstrate enough knowledge and skill to run a bird-banding station. They have to know how to set up nets to capture birds, repair damaged nets, safely remove birds from a net, identify the bird they are working with, and all sorts of other things, including taking body measurements and weighing them.

And to think — most bird lovers struggle to keep the friendly, well-fed neighborhood squirrels out of their bird feeders.

“They are great kids,” Mr. Blazis said.

And speaking of Mr. Blazis, although he is retiring from teaching, it won’t surprise anybody who knows him to find out he’s not exactly going to be sitting around his back yard with an iced tea and watching robins and blue jays.

The twice-a-year trip for Middle School students will still be held. He will also lead three educational safaris to South Africa and Cameroon in the upcoming months, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands off South America is planned for July 2006.

On his wish list is a trip to Antarctica, where he would like to step out of his orange survivor suit and have somebody take a picture of him in a tuxedo with an arm around a King penguin.

The late, great Burgess Meredith would like that.

The Auburn School Committee Monday night also accepted the retirements, effective at the end of the school year, of several other members of the School Department staff: Joan Polakowski, Norman White, John George, Delores Delude, Ann Teguis and Karen Moran from the Middle School; Sandra Schoenfeldt and Becky Colokathis from the Julia Bancroft School; Robert Devine from the high school; and special education teacher Judith Cocci.

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