My Life’s Birds: #96-102
October 23, 1993 – Ozark, Mo – One of the most important things a beginning birder can do is to get hooked up with a like-minded organization, providing you with access to knowledge, skills, and birding companions, all essential for the budding naturalist. It wasn’t long after my dad and I became avid birders that we discovered the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society, the local affiliate of the National Audubon Society, known to birders around the world. We would regularly attend meetings, meet and greet, and best of all, go on field trips on Saturday mornings to locations around the Springfield area in search of good birds. My dad’s and my time with them opened up a whole new world of birds that we had overlooked in our someone isolated birding career thus far, it only took one trip out before we began to see the potential here.
I still remember this field trip with great clarity. We were going to walk on some private land within the town of Ozark, an old farm that stretched down to the Finley River with lots of fields and brush and scrub. This being the fall, I’m sure you can tell what that means. Sparrows. Our leader was the austere Becky Matthews, a white-haired older lady who could rightly be considered the dean of GOAS, so instrumental was she in its day to day operations for so many years. I was by far the youngest person on this trip, and she immediately took me under her wing, to use an appropriate if over-used birding pun. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her knowledge vast, she was the perfect guide to a world of birding I was heretofore unaware of.
So we walked through the gate towards the river and we were soon surrounded by sparrows, not just the easily IDed White-crowned Sparrows, those I could handle, but tougher ones. We waded through them one by one and I saw Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and the secretive Swamp Sparrow. Birds I never would have been able to handle by myself, but at the knees of the masters eager to pass on their knowledge to an enthusiastic young protoge, they fell into my Life List easy as can be.
And so here I sat, at lifer 99, on the verge of a major milestone for the beginning birder. Only four and a half months since I began keeping track of the birds I was seeing, I was ready for number 100. And sure enough, what would an October morning be without Yellow-rumped Warblers, which my older friends called “Myrtle” Warblers and pished right in for close looks. But this being before my interest in taxonomy really took off, I was just happy to bask in my 100th life bird and wonder at that weird “pishing” thing, only then realizing number 101, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, was right in there too.
The funny thing is I’ve never been back to that field where I took my first Audubon field trip, though this was only the first of many many field trips I’d go on, and the first of my real involvement in the Audubon Society. The town of Ozark recently determined the houses in the area were blighted and kicked all the people out, a minor stir in our little town. It may yet become a city park as is the plan. On the drive home, we stopped by an old farm pond when an unusual bird was sitting on the water. It ended up being a Pied-billed Grebe, a fine closure for a morning that was in many ways, a turning point for my birding career.
photos from Wikipedia