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Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

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Birders of WEGO

Teachers Nick Caltagirone and David Jennings explore their shared passion for birding.

A calm, cool breeze that hits at the crack of dawn is unlike any other. A soft crunch of gravel as the sun slowly rises on the prairie is overshadowed by the birds chirping in all directions. Bird-watching, a hobby that David Jennings and Nicholas Caltagirone have enjoyed in recent times, involves far more than spotting a robin or cardinal in the backyard.

“It encourages travel, it encourages you to go to other places and meet different types of people and experience different habitats. You can really think about the world by thinking through the birds that are in that world and so I think it lends itself to a more cosmopolitan mindset which also appeals to me,” Caltigorine said

English teacher David Jennings, left, and Social Studies teacher Nick Caltigirone, spot a possible bird of interest in a tree. Photo by Sebastian Alarcon

The two teachers/friends discovered their love for ornithology at around the same time – coincidentally near the start of the COVID pandemic.  Shortly thereafter, they began birdwatching together at a nearby forest preserve on a weekly basis and have not looked back since. 

“Jennings and I have been birding together for around two years, and we both started independently during COVID. I had a Cooper Hawk family nested in my backyard during the time, so I spent a lot of time just sitting on my back patio watching two Cooper Hawks raise three fledglings, that was super cool, and fell in love since,” Caltagirone said. 

The activity of birdwatching came naturally for the two, despite studying and teaching different subjects and coming from different backgrounds. Birdwatching provided a sense of meditation for the two – an activity of “zen” they say, in which they managed to be in the moment and relax. Ornithology is an activity that they found therapeutic. 

There’s something very calming and centering about being out in nature, being purposefully present to and observant of all that you can see in the hopes that you might see a bird you may have otherwise missed moving through life as quickly and as blindly as we tend to do by default,” Jennings said. 

He finds the idea of stepping back and appreciating the world at large to be an important and necessary action from time to time. 

Even though bird-watching is still a relatively recent hobby for the dynamic duo, their love for the birds has already managed to creep into West Chicago student life. Caltagirone, who teaches World History and Philosophy, and Jennings who teaches Broadcast Production and Media Literacy, have both brought photographs of their birding adventures into the classroom. Caltagirone even has a “bird of the week” to display each Monday. 

A yellow finch is just visible from the ground during the two teachers’ birding session on Sept. 23, 2023. Photo by Sebastian Alarcon

“I didn’t know much about birding, but it was a lot of fun to be with a big group of people with binoculars scouting out the birds. It was fun because we’d see a bird and get excited. Mr. C. and Jennings were very passionate about it, and [Caltagirone] had a lot of knowledge about birds,” said senior Alex Bradley, who was in Caltagirone’s class two years ago.

Of course, with the research and sightseeing of birds, they each have a favorite bird they look out for. 

“My favorite bird is definitely a bald eagle. Somehow, I found something online. someone had posted something about there being like, between ten and fourteen bald eagles hanging out in downtown Elgin just over the spillway. And so, on Saturday mornings, I was waking up at the crack of dawn grabbing my camera driving up there. And just in the frigid cold of January, just like oh my goodness, these birds are amazing, taking pictures and kind of geeking out and having fun. I think the further into this, I’ve gotten, like, obviously, it’s really cool to see a big majestic bird. But it’s now just as much fun for me to find something small. It’s like a different version of the same challenge,” Jennings said.

For Caltigirone, the Prothonotary Warbler is quite a find. These are small, colorful birds – not common to the area, though there are nesting pairs along the Fox River – with a distinctive call.

The two men’s families have gotten involved in birding as well. 

“My wife does go birding with me at times. My son thinks we’re crazy, but he went birding with me over the summer and hated to admit how much he enjoyed it. Mr. Jennings and I have taken students out before and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been enjoyable spreading the good word of birding,” Caltagirone said.

To them, birding is an activity that became something much more than they both expected. Walking in nature and looking at the birds is – surprisingly – something they credit to helping them in the classroom as an educator as well. They have gathered content to use in the classroom from their experiences, and changed their mindset as well. 

“I think it’s good for all of us to slow down and to try and become more connected to the life we’re actually living. We’re all really good at being in two places at once, and not that fake digital life that you’re tempted to think is just as good as the other. I think that’s great for all of us, especially in a classroom context,” Jennings said.

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About the Contributors
Sebastian Alarcon
Sebastian Alarcon, Multimedia Content Creator
Sebastian Alarcon is a senior at WCCHS and a first-year journalism student. Formerly, he was a dedicated soccer player for 14 years. Sebastian is a very sociable, friendly, and charismatic individual who loves connecting with others. Currently, Sebastian works at Sonny Acres and is also in the process of deciding which college to attend out of state. When he is not studying or working, he plays tennis and does some boxing on the side. In his free time, Sebastian likes to listen to music for example rap, and Spanish rock, and also watch movies.
Michael Birdsell
Michael Birdsell, Reviews Editor
Michael is a senior, and a second-year member of the Wildcat Chronicle. He has been involved with the West Chicago golf, tennis, and scholastic bowl teams throughout his time in high school. In his free time, he enjoys reading literary fiction, watching arthouse films, and listening to music. He plans to attend a four-year university to study either English or law. 
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  • Antonietta BirdsellApr 15, 2024 at 11:46 pm

    I love birding too! Yes, love being rooted in the present moment, being in the now. Their songs remind me of the voice of angels. Thank you Michael for the reminder to look up.