Tahlequah Daily Press


March 19, 2014

Bird-watchers getting into their feathered friends

TAHLEQUAH — The 1960s the Hitchcock thriller, “The Birds,” first drew Don Hilger’s attention to the feathered creatures. Until he saw that movie, he hadn’t been aware there were so many types of birds.

“I’ve always been interested in the field or ornithology, but didn’t know how to go about it,” said Hilger, who moved to Tahlequah from Napa, Calif., 10 years ago.

Last weekend marked Hilger’s first field trip with a group to bird-watch.

“Just getting out, I probably had more exercise than I’ve had in a year,” he said.

Spotting a first-ever albino-breasted robin made for an exciting Saturday morning. The field trip followed a bird identification meeting earlier in the week.

Five people made it to the Murrell Home field trip around 8 a.m., shortly after day break.

“We looked around the Murrell Home park then drove down to the river, through various back roads,” said George Fulk, leader of the workshop, along with Joyce Varner. “For me, the highlight was seeing a partial albino robin. His or her breast was all white.”

Varner has monitored birds around the Fort Gibson water fowl refuge for 17 years.

“I like the traveling to go to watch birds with good companions,” Varner said. “And doing the different surveys. Even though we’re amateurs, we contribute to the scientific knowledge about birds through observations, catching and banding projects. One bird we saw for nine years.”

Meandering along the park trail, listening and watching for feathered visitors, the group on more than one occasion had to consult a field guide to  determine which bird was in view.

“The Sibley field guide is the best, I think,” said Fulk “It has the range map that shows breeding and migratory range and a little bit about behavior.”

They saw 25 types of birds Saturday morning: the Great Blue Heron, Canadian Goose, Lesser Scaup, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe (new spring arrivals, with a pair making a nest), American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Eastern Mockingbird, and House Sparrow.

A bird-watcher for decades, Varner also keeps her eyes peeled for the unusual.

“One time we saw a Great Blue Heron nest up in a tree top; usually they nest with other nests near by. The next year, it was gone,” she said.

When a Myrtle Warbler was spotted, Fulk said that’s the name he learned for the bird.

“The naming committee, the American Ornithological Union, changed it about 20 years ago to Yellow-rumped Warbler. New DNA research is one reason names change,” said Varner. “It’s a full-time resident here.”

For nearly three hours, the watchers wandered the park, drove back roads to the river, stopping when they saw birds or ducks.

“It’s still early in the spring not all birds have arrived yet,” she said. “The scissortails come back about the first of April – and other swallows, too.”

Before leaving the park, the bird enthusiasts were excited to observe the white-breasted robin again.

“I’ve never seen an albino robin before. It’s a good day,” said Fulk.

A backyard bird feeder is one of Patsy Clifford’s favorite places to bird watch.

“My husband [Craig] and I like to look at birds. He helped monitor with Joyce [Varner] with the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program of the Institute for Bird Populations, banding, trapping and counting,” said Clifford.

As the group members moved toward their cars to leave, Fulk said, “Now I’m going fishing.”

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