Millennium’s Birding Club Flies High

Agatha Ryan, Staff Writer

At Millennium Brooklyn High School, an incoming freshman (or a seasoned upperclassman) can try out for the baseball team, join the Comic Creators club or take up the drums in the school music club.  But should they have an interest in ornithology, an avian curious student might joining the iconic Birding Club. The club is run by Mr. Pollard, Millennium’s beloved Earth Science teacher and acclaimed birder, and the club’s student body consists of a scattering of bird enthusiasts and a sprinkling of first time birders.

 As an investigative reporter for Millennium Brooklyn’s Phoenix, I decided to spend a couple of my Tuesday afternoons strolling through Prospect Park with the members of the club. Through my research I found that birding club is perhaps one of the most underrated clubs in the entirety of the school.

Birding club begins with its members gathering in room 328 to collect binoculars before leaving on an excursion. On one of the Tuesdays in question, binoculars in hand, we set out for the park and Mr. Pollard informed us that we were heading for (imagine Pollard doing his best movie trailer announcer voice) “The Vale of Cashmere.” On our  trek to northeast corner of Prospect Park, a tucked away thicket beloved by birders for its popularity among the park’s winged inhabitants, we stopped frequently to spot all different types of birds. The first one we identified was a black-and-white warbler. Hailing from the family of warblers, this songbird species stands out for its black and white stripes that give it a striking resemblance to a miniature flying zebra. 

Zion Rowe, a devout member of birding club, toted a trusty bird encyclopedia we used to identify the other types of warblers we observed in their natural environs, such as the ovenbird and yellow rump warbler. 

Nadav Gilldmuth, a birding enthusiast only second to Mr. Pollard, took expert photos of the birds (and is the photographer for all photos that appear in this article). After seeing a thrush, a black cap bird and making our way through a muddy swamp, we finally reached the (drumroll, please!) Vale of Cashmere!

The Vale is a shaded glen adjacent to East Drive just off the Mount Prospect Hill (the big one). There was a slight hint of dust in the air from the dirt passing children had kicked up earlier. At first, I was apprehensive of the Vale, a slightly spooky pocket of the park with discarded logs and broken sticks slung along our path. But after we had hiked a few feet, my virgin birdwatching eyes rested upon an image of grandeur. Through the trees emerged a calm little pond with ducklings skating across its surface as cardinals and Baltimore orioles fluttered and sang in the trees above. Cardinals are quite common in Prospect Park, but for a non-birder like myself, seeing a flickering bright red light in the dense green foliage was a sight to see. The Baltimore oriole however, is a more rare find for Park Slope birders to spot.  Eyeing its neon orange gleam was the highlight of the outing in all of the birders’ minds. 

The end of our hour of birding came to a bittersweet close after we sighted a northern waterthrush and a grackle. On the walk back to school, we reminisced about our time birding and we managed to spot a few more robins and starlings. These are very common birds, according to Mr. Pollard, but now I knew how to identify them! 

Junior Anthony (Tony) Russo, shared with me about his love for birding club. “It’s relaxing, it calms me down, it makes me feel happy,” he said. 11th grader Ellora Onion De, a recent convert to the club, but a quick study in the ornithological arts, raved about the “opportunity to get out and spend time in the outdoors and learn about birds which are really pretty and varied in species–and Mr. Pollard is an expert!”

On our journey, Mr. Pollard divulged the origins of his birding career. “I have always had an interest in the natural world (mostly plants) but after my family moved to Cape May, New Jersey, I fell in love with birds.”  he said. “Cape May is a birding mecca which draws birders from all over throughout the year and even hosts a World Series of Birding in May.” 

Mr. Pollard has made huge inroads into the Brooklyn birding community and is fairly famous among local birders. He has even been recognized on an occasion by a fellow birder during a club outing. If you ever find yourself in a park in need of some ornithological gear–a spare set of binoculars, an emergency Audobon guide–just drop Mr. Pollard’s name in front of a group of birders and they will be sure to help you out.

This intrepid club advisor continues to inspire young birding enthusiasts with his an engaging but “chill” (as the kids say) demeanor. Mr. Pollard explained that he started the club because “I am very passionate about birds and am always trying to get friends and family excited about birding.” He noted that the school’s location near Prospect Park, “which is a migrant trap and gets amazing birds during spring and fall migration, [makes] Millennium Brooklyn…a perfect spot for a birding club.”  I myself have uncovered a newfound appreciation for birds under the tutelage of Mr. Pollard and his birding crew. Even if you can’t name all of the birds off the top of your head like Mr. Pollard, Nadav, or Ellora, you can still appreciate these specimens for being small and chubby and cute.

Though the binoculars made me a little dizzy and I was not particularly skilled at paying attention to the birds, I was in awe of Mr. Pollard’s extensive knowledge of these creatures, and my peers’ love and passion for birding. Even if you think birding is not something that would interest you, do not let your preconceived notions get in the way of the majesty that is birding club. 

Every Tuesday, these enthusiasts convene to bond over their shared love of these quirky winged beings who play a crucial role in our ecosystem. And they are part of a much larger movement. When walking around Prospect Park, I discovered the large community of birders which I had no clue existed. These birdwatchers were incredibly kind and helpful. They guided us to the birds we were looking for. “I would love students to walk away from birding club as passionate birders and conservationists,” Mr. Pollard says. “I want students to appreciate what a beautiful piece of nature we have in Prospect Park and other areas in Brooklyn.” After all, birding club is the only club at Millennium where students can enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful spring day! I was happy as a lark to be taken under the club’s wing.