By RENEE FITE
Birds of a feather, or rather bird enthusiasts, flocked together Monday night to learn how to identify native and migratory species in Cherokee County.
Wildlife enthusiasts George Fulk and Joyce Varner hosted a meeting for community members interested in learning more about the feathered friends who call Cherokee County home.
Woodpeckers and ducks were featured Monday night, with Fulk and Varner sharing facts, photos and experiences with the attendees. As a former hunter-turned-photographer and artist, Fulk sometimes surprised the group with his observations that began with, “When I used to hunt them. ...”
Photos of each bird or duck were shown on Fulk’s computer, starting with the yellow-bellied sapsucker, which he called “a true migrant and winter resident.”
It winters in the southeastern United States and South America. Birds go north to breed and to get away from competition, he said.
These birds will move around the tree as they peck, said Varner.
“They not only look for sap, but the insects that like the sap,” she said. “It is red-headed with a solid black and white body.”
The juvenile has a brown head, but they all have a white patch, Fulk added.
The red-bellied woodpecker has black and white stripes with a peachy belly, and red head, said Fulk.
“People often confuse these two,” he said.
Different woodpeckers “drum” – use pecking sounds – in different ways, as another way to identify species.
After discussing a bit about all the woodpeckers found locally, 18 ducks were the topic as “dabblers and divers.”
Dabblers’ have legs more forward and feed with their tails out of the water and their heads in the water. They’re found in shallow water and can fly suddenly, said Fulk. Divers can stay under water a long time and swim really well. Their legs are set far back and they have to run on the surface of the water before flying.
Only three ducks nest here: the blue-winged teal, mallard and wood duck, Fulk said.
“The young are precocious; they can swim when they’re born. The males are good-looking to attract the females,” he said.
The most common dabbler is a Mallard.
“They’re a handsome bird,” said Fulk. “See how the water beads up on their feathers? Ducks oil their feathers.”
Gadwalls have black tail feathers with a white patch, and are fairly common, said Fulk.
“They’re seen at Sequoyah State Park,” he said.
One of the “divers,” the common merganser, has a tufted head and can be seen at the pond at the golf course on Park Hill Road, said Varner.
The hooded merganser has a large white crest, is black with white lines on its back and is brown on bottom.
“The crest is flattened in flight,” Varner said.
Loons have been found on Lake Tenkiller.
“They can dive 50 feet and come up 50 feet from where they went under,” said Varner. “The loon sound is their breeding call, and they don’t do that here.”
After the bird talk, Varner compared about a dozen field guide books she prefers. “A Field Guide to Identification of Birds of North America,” by Chandler, Robbins, Bruun and Zim was her top choice.
“The Audubon guide is not as good, because it only shows one view of a bird,” she said. “Don’t use it as your only guide.”
A book with paintings will emphasize the field characteristics, Fulk said, whereas in a photograph features may be hidden.
“Get the best binoculars you can afford,” Varner said. “A Pentax is good. I have a Swarovski I bought used for $1,000 that was $2,000 new.”
A Bushnell is good, Fulk added, they cost between $50 and $60.
“Be sure you look through them before buying to be sure they work right and the prism isn’t messed up,” he said.
Visitors to the meeting said they hoped to learned to identify what the see around their home or become better photographers of wildlife.
Roger West recently retired, and is looking for social activity and getting into photography.
“Birds are good for that,” said West. “Tonight, I learned I don’t know much about birds.”
The first field trip of the bird watchers is Saturday, March 15 at 8 a.m. at the Murrell Home. New bird-watching enthusiasts are welcome.