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Carl Wernicke: Watching Birds & Connecting To Community


I’ve talked before about the value of staying connected to what’s happening locally, something that grows in importance as traditional media suffer from shrinking budgets and staff. But staying connected isn’t just about local news media; it includes a wide variety of community organizations.

One of my favorites is the Francis M. Weston Audubon Society. I consider myself a birdwatcher, but I’m strictly an amateur compared to serious birders. Still, my wife and I get a lot of enjoyment from it, and now and then we take advantage of the wonderful field trips the Society offers.

But a major perk of membership is getting the chapter newsletter, the Skimmer. It is filled with news about what’s happening around the area, and answers a lot of questions.

For instance, on New Year’s day at Pensacola Beach we spotted some ducks we had never seen before, and failed to identify by consulting a birding app. But last week the chapter’s winter newsletter arrived, and after reading the Field Notes section, a wrap up of various birding information and sightings, we decided we had seen long-tailed ducks, which other birders had also spotted. A phone call to Lucy Duncan, one of the area’s top birders, confirmed the sighting, which apparently is quite rare here.

The Field Notes, written by Bob Duncan, Lucy’s husband and another accomplished birder, also assuaged a concern: in the fall there was a sudden decline in visits to our birdfeeder. We have come to enjoy the entertaining daily antics of a parade of birds at the feeder, and I feared that something was seriously wrong. But as it turns out, there’s a variety of reasons for the absence, including the fact that a wet summer led to an abundant crop of wild fruits, nuts and seeds. Lucy told me that the birds prefer this natural supply of fresh food to the dried grains and seeds in birdfeed. The Field Notes also mentioned that there was a huge crop of acorns this year, which we had seen in our woods, and heard in the pounding our metal porch roof took from a nearby oak. Lucy said Blue jays, one of our local visitors, love acorns.

Recently all of our bird friends have begun to return, in part, I think, simply because they like variety in their diet as much as we do. I learned this watching our chickens, which on a day-to-day basis subsist on a boring feed pellet. I noticed that if we give them something new, they attack it with fervor. Their favorites, in order, are probably grits, noodles (I think they see them as worms), rice, bread and pancakes.  Followed closely by greens such as collards.

But their ardor for any of these foods diminishes noticeably after 2 or 3 days if we keep supplying it. I have also noticed that the more time they spend outside, the less they eat of the boring pellets, filling up instead on grass, worms and bugs.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get sidetracked onto chickens, which don’t actually qualify as birding. But like in so many things, the Skimmer helps connect us into the web of community life in ways that are as unexpected as they are rewarding.