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Birding for fun

Here’s hoping you are deriving great pleasure from your newfound hobby of birding.In this issue, let’s get off the technical side of birding and onto the fun side. Birding is more than just identifying birds; it’s about having fun in the outdoors, too.One of the greatest thrills for any birder is finding a rare bird or one that is completely out of its normal range.A couple summers ago I found a breeding population of McCown’s Longspurs (here’s a chance to use your field guide), which were approximately 150 miles out of their usual breeding range (Andrews and Righter). I tried reporting it to one of the official organizations, but, as I was only age 12 at the time, nobody really believed me. The next year, however, I had gained a couple birding friends and mentioned this to them and soon several birders and scientists came out to confirm my sightings. On July 27, I experienced one of the greatest thrills of my life when I found and held a pair of flightless young longspurs, which rewarded me for my two years of study.Far more exciting, however, was the recent announcement of the re-discovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in an Arkansas swamp (refer to illustration). This species has been considered extinct since 1943, and had become the keyword for “extinction.” On Feb. 11, 2004, kayaker Gene Sparling, who was exploring the cypress swamp known as the “Big Woods,” saw the bird.The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is a large distinctive woodpecker that can be confused with the far more common Pileated Woodpecker. Anyway, the kayaker reported his discovery, and there are now 73 researchers out in the swamp attempting to find these birds. One method they are using is recording machines that turn on for four hours in the morning and again for two hours in the evening. The resulting tapes are then computer-analyzed by comparing the recordings made by researchers in 1938 with the recordings made in the last year. The computers run through the tens of thousands of hours of recordings and bring to the analyzer’s attention any sounds that resemble the 1938 recordings.Another method used is that of motion and heat detecting cameras, which shoot a picture whenever infrared heat or motion is detected. So far, only one video of the suspected bird has been made, and through frame-by-frame analysis it has been determined that it really is an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.This is the part of the fun of being a birder: the excitement, and, at times, the emotion of finding something rare, or, in this case, something that was assumed to be extinct. Of course, none of you will probably ever find an “extinct” species, but I am sure that if you are a persistent and a serious birder you will someday find something rare.

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