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story.lead_photo.caption Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista Gail Storm and Butch Tetzlaff of The Bluebird Shed will be working together on citizen-scientist projects along with other members of a new bird watching group in Bella Vista.

A new club in Bella Vista has been doing service projects even before it gets fully organized. The Bella Vista Birders was one of the groups that helped count species for the Berksdale BioBlitz last week.

Gail Storm is the organizer. She belonged to a similar bird group in California and missed it when she moved to Bella Vista. She wanted to find other people to go birding with. So far she has about 60 names and emails.

In California, her group did an annual count of turkey vultures as they migrated south from British Columbia. Each year, the local Air Force base had to cancel some of its test flights because the migrating birds traveled so high. Eventually, Air Force personnel started contacting the club to get information about the migration in order to schedule its flights.

It was birders who discovered that bluebirds were in danger when house sparrows, a species imported from Europe, were taking over nesting cavities, Storm explained. Groups like the Bella Vista Bluebird Society stepped in to help provide man-made boxes for nests so both species had a place to raise their young. Because of that, the bluebird population has recovered.

Storm is a member of the Bella Vista Bluebird Society but she's interested in all birds. So now she's in the process of developing bylaws for the new group.

She knows there are lots of Bella Vista residents interested in birds because the Jane Walmart sold more wild bird seed than any other Walmart a few years ago.

There will probably be monthly bird walks, Storm said. They could travel to places like the Swepco Lake to see bald eagles, or stay in Bella Vista on the local trails. The trails around Crystal Bridges are also a good place to watch birds. Since the best time for bird watching is early morning, they may consider some overnight trips.

Not long ago, she traveled with some friends to an area near XNA where people were seeing painted buntings. You can tell a painted bunting because it looks like a clown, she explained. After spotting some of the brightly colored birds on the trip, she heard they've also been seen in Bella Vista near the Dogwood golf course.

The club may also sponsor quarterly educational speakers. The quarterly events will be open to the public.

She's also communicating with the POA golf offices. The only time bird watchers can get on the golf courses is when they are closed, so she plans to keep track of the maintenance schedule so birders can get on the course during maintenance days.

The service projects will include one-time events like the BioBlitz but also recurring events like the Christmas Bird Count. There's no historical data in the area about the bird population, so the new club will help develop it.

Storm said she's heard several people comment that there are fewer hummingbirds than usual this year, but there's no way to know for sure if something is wrong. Maybe the hummingbirds are busy nesting for a few weeks and not visiting their feeders. A historical record could answer that question.

Butch Tetzlaff, owner of the Bluebird Shed, will be the compiler, Storm said. Last year he organized the first Christmas Bird Count for this area. The Christmas Bird Count is an Audubon project that traces its history to 1900 when hunters would compete to see who could shoot the most birds and small animals. Now they simply count them.

Tetzlaff has also been organizing a backyard bird count and he explains why on his website, "It turns out that, even after all of our modern technology, birds are still the proverbial canary in the coal mine with respect to our environment. Sure there are other animals out there that are more sensitive to environmental degradation, such as many frogs and salamanders, but birds as a whole are still the backbone of environmental monitoring."

The website has the information needed to participate and Storm is looking forward to helping him. Eventually, they will combine their lists of names and emails and have a better idea of how many Bella Vistans are interested in birds.

"The more samples, the better the accuracy," he said.

Storm has some tips for those new to bird watching. Almost everyone, she explains, makes the same mistake when they spot a new bird. They reach for their field guide or their cell phone and try to look it up. But while they're looking away, trying to find the right entry, the bird is long gone. It's better, she said, to keep your eyes on the bird. Memorize some details about it including the size and shape of the body, the overall color and patterns or stripes, look for a crest, the size, shape and color of the beak and then, after the bird flies off, go look it up.

You can also identify a bird by sound. Some people become quite good at hearing a bird and knowing for sure what species it is. Don't forget to watch for clues in behavior. For example, a bird that sits on a branch until it darts out to catch an insect and then returns to that same branch is probably a flycatcher.

When the new group meets, members will have the chance to learn from each other, as well as from the speakers. But, maybe more important, is the fact that birders will have some camaraderie. When they go out to enjoy nature, they won't be going alone and, for many people, that's more fun.

General News on 06/05/2019

Print Headline: New Bella Vista club focusing on all birds

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