Course Information and FAQ:

Questions? Please contact registration coordinator Kayla Rankin at 937-365-1935 or email

Cancellation Policy. You may cancel your reservation for full refund any time prior to 30 days before the course begins. After that time, cancellations are not permitted. Please try to find someone else to fill your place.

Be sure to bring with you a good birding field guide:  There are lots of excellent bird books on the primary and secondary market. We highly recommend The Sibley Guide to Birds;  This is the ultimate bird guide for serious birders because it shows the most plumage variations of any book on the market. The largest version is a bit hefty to be carrying in the field, so consider making it your secondary reference you leave at home, or alternatively, buy the lighter more condensed Sibley book version.  Whichever guide you pick, make sure the range maps are for all of at least Eastern United States and are on the same page or the facing page to the bird paintings. Note, books with bird paintings provide more support for field ID  than photographs. Here are several good books:

  1. Birds, A Guide to Field Identification of North America; A Golden Field Guide. A wonderful lightweight field guide with related look-alike species on the same page. Maps are also on the same page as the illustrations. Usable across the continent.
  2. All the Birds of North America; American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Guide. Beautifully illustrated book shows look alike and related species on the same page in their associated habitats. A really lovely field guide and light enough to carry across the continent. Organized by field-recognizable features instead of pure genetics, which makes it a great field guide for beginners and art-appreciative advanced birders. Maps on same page as illustrations.
  3. Birds of Field and Shore, Grassland and Shoreline Birds of Eastern North America; John Eastman

Who is this course designed for? This course is ideal for teachers, nature enthusiasts, naturalists, outdoor educators, biologists, home school parents, and students of biodiversity who consider themselves in the late-beginner or  intermediate level of learning birds. Many preserve and metro park system employees have attended this course in the past as a way to bolster up their bird identification. As a minimum requirement, registrants should already know the common year-around residents, such as cardinal, blue jay, crow, and chickadee; have used binoculars before, and have some familiarity with using a field identification book. On the high end of the threshold for course suitability, registrants who are already very knowledgeable on recognizing birds by sight, but not yet by sound or song, will profit greatly from this course. This course has also drawn experts in bird songs who take the course simply for the joy of sharing bird listening with others with like interests, and getting to do it for four blissful uninterrupted days. They seem to enjoy themselves equally.

How many bird songs will you learn? How many species you will learn and remember after leaving this course depends on a number of factors: the background you bring with you in outdoor skills,  how many birds you already know, your ability to observe and retain details with your eyes, and your ability to hear and remember audible sounds. These abilities naturally vary dramatically from person to person, and should always be viewed without apology. Someone who is new to mastering outdoor skills may leave with 25 new birds in their repertoire. A person who comes to the course already knowing fifty birds, may leave with 85 species in his or her capacity by both sight and sound. Instructor Artemis Eyster will work with you wherever you are to improve your skills, and there is no reason to have shame or pride on being on either end of the scale. The goal is not how much you know coming in, but how much you have transformed your skills by the end of the course.

Cell phone coverage and internet: Please note that the Sanctuary is in a rural location in the foothills of the Appalachians. Cell phone coverage is spotty and connectivity depends on your phone service company. However, Wi-Fi is available at the Museum headquarters one mile from Whispering Springs, and a short drive to Highway 50 connects to nearly every provider. Sprint is the only carrier that works on Cave Road. You can pick up most other servers on US 50 before the Cave Road turnoff.

Comfort in the Out-of-Doors: We will be spending most of our time in the field, so please pack clothing that will allow you to be comfortable for a variety of weather conditions, and for hiking at night. The program will go on rain or shine. In southern Ohio, the low to mid-nineties are common daytime highs. Our schedule for insect listening takes us out in the cooler mornings and evenings and taking a siesta in the hot afternoons.  Regardless, it will be hot. If you work daily in an air-conditioned environment, you might be wise to prepare for the course by taking mid-day walks so you can begin adjusting to midsummer outdoor temperatures.

Physical Capacity: Because the course is focused on outdoor activities, participants should be able to hike up to four miles a day sustainably without injury or severe discomfort, although in this course it is unlikely we will be hiking more than 2-3 miles a day. Off-trail hiking may be an occasional component of the course, but for the most part we will be following established trails. Trails may be narrow and uneven in nature at times. Our hikes will be dependably slow.

Location. This course will be held in the tranquility of the beautiful 2600-acre nature preserve known as the Highlands Nature Sanctuary with field trips out to other preserves in the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System in south-central Ohio. The weekend hub will be at the Appalachian Forest Museum. Maximum attendance is 35 people.

Accommodations. Lodging is available in one of the Sanctuary’s beautiful overnight facilities, most of which are historic and all of which are tastefully and uniquely decorated. Lodging is optional but highly encouraged since you will be studying into the night and will probably want to crash into bed upon return. Lodges are anywhere from 1-5 miles from the workshop hub but are still much closer than private lodges nearby. All lodges have kitchens or kitchenettes and one or more bathrooms on the hall. If you are coming with a partner, you may request one of our rooms with a double bed. We have limited double bed offerings; first come first served. Most rooms have two twin beds; or a single bed and a double bed, the choice of which is also first come first served. If you are not coming with a partner but want to take advantage of the reduced rate of shared rooms, we will link you up with another registrant of the same gender. If we can’t find you a roommate, so long as you remain willing to share, even at the last minute, we will honor your shared rate. Click here to familiarize yourself with Sanctuary lodges.

What if I want a private room? We have a very limited number of solo rooms and we encourage you to only go solo if you feel you would not make a good roommate due to heavy snoring or other technical difficulties (smiles), so that we can save those private rooms for people who need them the most. You can also choose to upgrade to the Zen or Eyrie Suites which are private facilities for 1-2 people perched on the rim of the Rocky Fork Gorge, or Leatherwood Cabin with has two bedrooms. We will simply charge you the difference. We also have 1-2 private room offerings at Ash Ayden, our volunteer headquarters. If you want to go solo, please inquire and we will share prices and availability.

Meals: All meals are provided from Friday supper through Tuesday lunch – twelve meals altogether. The Arc of Appalachia is well recognized for its fabulous meals that are often based on local organic produce. Meat and eggs are local and pasture-raised whenever available. All meals are provided with vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options. Meat is available for at least one meal a day. Eggs and cheese are frequent accompaniments. If you have other food restrictions, please make a note on the registration form and we will let you know how well we can accommodate your needs. All lodges have kitchen facilities if you need to supplement your diet.

Flying in? Participants may fly into either Cincinnati or Columbus. Both airports are 1 hour and forty five minutes away from the Sanctuary. Shuttles are not available so participants may need to rent a car. If you wish to car-share from your home or airport, please let us know and we will get you in contact with any other interested participants.

Additional Expenses: Registrants will supply their own transportation to the Highlands Nature Sanctuary and to other field trip locations in south central Ohio. Carpooling can usually be arranged with other participants for day trips, and such carpooling is often necessary since some of our locations have limited parking. We recommend you offer a modest gas cost contribution if you link up with another.

Emergency Messages: Emergency messages for course participants can be left at the main line of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary (937) 365-1935 during daytime hours.

Should I prepare for insects?  We experience very few to no mosquitoes and no black flies. You may encounter ticks in the open fields, and chiggers in tall grass if you choose to wander off trail (which is a good reason not to), and a few deer flies in low moist areas. If any of these challenges are new for you, let us know and we will do our best to orient you. No exposure to at least some insects in southern Ohio is not a realistic expectation for outdoor field work. During every field trip there will inevitably be a few ticks found crawling up some of our registrants’ legs. If you see them, they are not a problem. Just brush them off. It’s the ones you don’t see that might pose a problem. Since we DO have deer ticks in southern Ohio, please read below.

A Special Note on Ticks. We will be orienting everyone to ticks in order to minimize exposure to disease which can be carried to you by deer ticks, an exposure which is unlikely but possible. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE USE OF ROSE GERANIUM OIL ON YOUR LEGS AND PANTS which has proved to be a good deterrent. We also recommend a good tick check at night before or after showering. If you have a partner, use him or her to do the ‘primate thing.” If you don’t, employ a mirror and don’t forget to check your hairline.

The key to addressing Lyme’s disease risk is to be aware of symptoms and  demanding proper diagnostic tests if you suspect the disease. You may know more than your doctor so being empowered is important. Lyme’s is treatable if detected in a reasonable time, but because deer ticks have not been in Ohio for very long, many doctors are slow to recognize the symptoms. Being informed and proactive provides you with the highest level of safety.  Here are some symptoms to remember, which tend to be flu-like:

  • Pain areas: in the joints or muscles
  • Whole body: fatigue, fever, or malaise
  • Joints: stiffness or swelling
  • Also common: appearance of large red blotches, sometimes with bulls-eye pattern,
  • Headache
  • Palsy

A Special Note on Chiggers. Chigger bites are very annoying if numerous, and are itchy but not dangerous. The best way to minimize or better yet, completely avoid, chigger exposure is to stay on the trail. Perhaps ironically, we have found that open-toed sandals attract less chiggers than socks and shoes. Chiggers love to bury into tight places between skin and clothing. Bare legs can also deter ticks because you can easily feel the more common dog tick crawling up your legs, as well as visually see them and easily send them on their way. We are not necessarily recommending shorts and sandals during the day, but if you enjoy wearing them, do so. You may fare better than your less scantily dressed colleagues.

Poison Ivy. We will not be going off-trail, so it is very unlikely you will be exposed to poison ivy. In any case, the leaders know the plant well and will help you avoid exposure. If you do touch the leaves, washing vigorously with soap within an hour avoids reactivity in most people.

What to bring to this course:

  • A good quality set of binoculars is absolutely necessary. Binoculars that also focus close-up are great for butterfly watching on the side.
  • Your choice of a complete field guide to the birds of Eastern North America – see Recommended Reading for suggestions.
  • Strongly recommend uploading a bird app on your mobile phone. Please note, coverage is very spotty in our rural area.
  • Personal care items; soap, shampoo, etc. (towels, linens, and tissue are provided in the lodges).
  • Informal outdoor clothing for both wet and dry weather.
  • Sunscreen and a light-weight broad-banded hat to cover your head.
  • Sunglasses if sensitive to bright sunlight.
  • Sturdy hiking shoes and at least one pair of lighter shoes.
  • Both shorts and lightweight pants.
  • Flashlight – VERY important! It’s dark here at night as we keep night lights to a minimum.
  • A first aid kit appropriate to your needs.
  • Insect repellent for ticks is recommended, see details above.
  • Optional: Spray bottle for misting yourself in hot weather if you are very sensitive to heat.