December 19, 2013 4:00PM
People new to the hobby of birding always have the same reaction, according to Steve Ford, a professor of zoology at Pittsburg State University.
“I didn’t know all these birds were out here! Where did all of these birds come from?” they ask.
“Of course the birds have been there all along,” Ford said. “They just didn’t notice them.”
Birding is just one of the ways that people can become more attuned to the natural world around them and appreciate the diversity and complexity of it all, Ford said.
Ford and his wife, Cindy, who is a professor of biology at PSU, share a deep love of birds and of nature. Nearly every window in their rustic, rural Crawford County home looks out on feeders where finches, chickadees and a wide variety of other birds congregate to feast on the black oil sunflower seeds the Fords provide.
The Fords helped establish the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society in 1999, which meets monthly at PSU, and for years they have led the annual Mined-Land Christmas Bird Count.
“We actually do the count on New Year’s Day,” Steve Ford said. “The count can occur any time between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. According to rules set up by the national Audubon Society, we count birds in a 15-mile-wide diameter circle. We divide the circle into sections, based on the number who show up and start counting.”
The National Audubon Society adds the data collected by the southeast Kansas counters to that from counts across the U.S. to create a record of the numbers and species of birds present in each locale. According the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count, now over a century old, one of just two large pools of information used by ornithologists and conservation biologists to determine how the birds of the Americas are faring over time.
The Christmas Bird Count can result in some surprises, Cindy Ford said.
“It’s not unusual at all to see Bald Eagles,” Cindy Ford said. “In the past there have been sightings of Merlin (a small falcon similar to the American Kestrel.) We don’t see many of them. A couple of years ago, there were several reports of Snowy Owls in Kansas.”
The Fords said that the Christmas Bird Count is open to anyone, regardless of their level of experience.
“If they are a newcomer, we pair them with an experienced bird watcher,” Steve Ford said. “The only thing they really need is a good pair of binoculars.”
The Fords said anyone interested in joining the Mined-Land Christmas Bird Count is welcome. Participants will gather at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 1, at the Mini-Mart in Scammon to assign parts of the count circle, which is just west of Scammon.
The Fords said visitors are always welcome, as well, at the monthly meetings of the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society, which meets at 7 p.m. on the final Thursday of each month in Room 102 Yates Hall on the PSU campus.
“Many of our programs are not about birds,” Steve Ford said. “We have programs on anything in nature.”
For information about the Christmas Bird Count or the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society, call Steve and Cindy Ford at 620-632-4280 or e-mail chapter president Wayne Bockleman at firstname.lastname@example.org or chapter vice president Megan Corrigan at email@example.com.
For a list of upcoming programs for the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society and more information about the organization, visit their website at: http://sperry-galligar.com/.
For more information about birding, including field guides, visit the National Audubon Society website at www.audubon.org or www.enature.com.