Tue. Oct. 1, 2019

From the editor

-by Joanna Reuter

The September issue of The Chat was a big one, so I decided to wait until this issue to introduce myself and my goals as editor. Though I’ve been a bird watcher for about three of my four decades, I still cherish the constant potential for discovery. I was motivated to take on editorship of The Chat in order to share this love of learning with Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) members, whether they’ve been birding for a season or are seasoned birders. There are many different ways in which we can expand our knowledge about birds and ecosystems these days; here’s a summary of some methods with a few bits of my personal history for context:

  • Learning though direct observation: Seeing and hearing birds can be thrilling, and the Columbia Audubon Society provides many great field trips to do so in a group context. Much of my birding, though, is on my own or with my husband Eric. I spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, growing food and working on landscape management at our northern Boone County homestead farm, which Eric and I previously ran as a full-time, certified organic farm. When I see a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher eating something off of a tomato cage that further investigation demonstrates to be an outbreak of aphids, it’s a reminder that the food I eat and the food birds eat are not ecologically isolated. Though I am not bird “watching” at all times, I am virtually always listening and attentive.
  • Learning by participation in citizen science: Those of us privileged to have smartphones (a group I have finally joined) can track observations of birds and other organisms more easily than ever before though apps including eBird and iNaturalist, thus contributing to an unprecedented global network of biodiversity data. Perhaps it’s my scientific training that drives me to want to collect data, but I also find that the process of documenting what I’ve observed motivates me to look up questions about what I’ve seen, and that’s a great way to learn.
  • Learning through data: The ever-growing eBird database can answer a variety of questions about birds, as demonstrated in the Broad-winged Hawk article that I wrote for last month’s Chat. I have professional experience doing Geographic Information Systems (digital mapping) analysis, and I’ve more recently picked up the R programming language, which is an extremely powerful tool for data analysis and visualization.
  • Learning about context: My interest extends beyond just birds to ecosystems, landscapes, and the underlying geology. Trained in geology (specifically geomorphology, the study of landscapes), I not only want to know what bird I’m looking at, but what species of tree it’s in, what the human history of the landscape is, and what soil/bedrock underlies the location (among other things). I view modern ecosystems as dynamic and disrupted, regardless of whether they experienced some degree of past equilibrium. Ecosystem history/management questions are challenging but fascinating, something birders and naturalists should talk about more often.
  • Learning from new technology: I marvel at technological advances that, for example, allow the direct tracking of individual birds such as Broad-winged Hawks from North American breeding grounds to South American wintering grounds. I’ve never participated in bird tracking, but I used to collaborate with fish biologists tracking sturgeon movements in the Missouri River. More recently, my mind was blown when I learned that weather radar can be used to track the migratory movement of birds, something I now take (almost) for granted as I routinely check on the Birdcast website during spring and fall migration.

I see The Chat as a way to share knowledge and ideas, and look forward to continued learning and teaching as I take on the editorship. I appreciate feedback, corrections, ideas for content, or submissions; simply email me. Happy birding!

Band With Nature: Volunteers still needed

The 8th annual Band With Nature field trip for 2nd grade students is scheduled for October 7, 8, and 10 (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday). Students love the diverse bird-related activities, including an appearance by Raptor Rehab. Volunteers are needed to make the event a success. Volunteers can work for a half-day (2.5 hours) morning or afternoon or both, either one day or more. The event takes place at the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary (CANS). Please contact Bill Mees if you would like to help out.

Brief notes

  • Please note: The October meeting will be held at Fairview Elementary, not at the usual location. Mike Szydlowski, K-12 Science Coordinator for the Columbia Public School District, will speak on the new place-based nature curriculum at Fairview Elementary School and the “Nature School” on the Waters family property.
  • The CAS board still has a vacant position. If you are interested in serving as a board member, please contact President John Besser.
  • If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out the article about bird tracking by Sarah Kendrick, state ornithologist, in the current issue of the Missouri Conservationist. A plan is moving forward to be able to monitor digitally tagged birds passing through Missouri with the Motus system, a really exciting technology that promises to vastly enhance our understanding of the movements of birds (and other organisms) on large geographic scales. If you are not yet a Missouri Conservationist subscriber, you can sign up on line; there is no charge for subscriptions–either physical or digital–for Missouri residents.
  • In case you need another reason to check out The State Historical Society of Missouri‘s new building, here it is: They have an archive of past issues of The Chat.
  • October 19 is eBird’s October Big Day when all birders are encouraged to take a bit of time to watch some birds, document sightings through eBird, and marvel at the diversity of birds from around the world as reports come in from over 150 countries. Whether you spend 5 minutes or 24 hours birding is up to you.
  • Keep an eye and ear out for Red Crossbills this fall, as there are some early signs that this is likely to be an irruption year, with birds coming south from northern forests to feed on cone crops in more southerly regions. Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area is a good place to look, and late October through early December is a good time to monitor based on past eBird records. This time frame likely coincides with the maturation of the pine cone seeds that the crossbills feed on at this location.
  • Late October is currently a little sparse in terms of pre-scheduled CAS field trips. Sometimes it is frustrating to schedule a field trip in advance, only to find the weather would have been much better on a different day or even a different time of the same day. We might try some short-notice field trips, announcing trips a few days out when the weather forecast is known. Keep an eye on email and/or the website for such opportunities. Also, please consider volunteering to lead one; simply contact Field Trip Chair Eric Reuter.

Board meeting update

There was not a quorum at the monthly board meeting, so prior minutes were not approved and no new minutes were taken. Those attending (Besser, Mees, Bushman, Hillman, Woods) informally discussed CoMo Gives, plans for the Band with Nature event, and options for replacement of the Wildhaven picnic pavilion.

Supporting CAS

Carrying out our mission through education, conservation, and outreach takes a wide variety of resources, from the valued time of dedicated volunteers to the financial support of members and donors. We welcome and appreciate all participants and supporters of our work through their generous donations of time, money, or other resources.

Submitting material to The Chat

The Chat is published online on the first of every month from September through May. Submissions are welcome, including photographs, stories, and brief notes about bird or nature observations. Please contact News Editor Joanna Reuter with submissions, feedback, or suggestions for content. The submission deadline is the 25th of each month.