Birds are more than just scenery. It’s easy to forget that they’re wild animals living among people in greater numbers than perhaps any other animal species. It’s easy to forget they’re there — to under-appreciate them.
Taking a moment to notice the birds — listen to them, look at them, observe what they do — has opened the eyes and ears of many in the area to the practice of birding.
“It’s kinda crazy I guess,” birder Bob Hoopes of Eastshore said, “but you go fish and sometimes you catch fish, sometimes you don’t. With birding, though, you always see something interesting.”
Hoopes goes daily on walks of about two or three miles, on which he says he sees an average of about 30 different species of birds around Marion Reservoir.
Hoopes will join with other bird fanatics in and around Marion County for a Christmas season bird count Dec. 28. The group will meet at 8 a.m. at Wendy’s in Hillsboro and conduct an all-day search within a 7½-mile radius of the Corps of Engineer office at the reservoir.
Tom Ewert of Wichita is organizing the bird count, and has done so since 2011. Before that, there hadn’t been Christmas bird counts in Marion since the early ’00s, and before that there were some in the late ’60s, Ewert said.
Information gleaned from this count and ones conducted all over the country will be compiled at Cornell University in Boston.
“It’s used to document things like climate change, bird ecology change, urbanization, and different things that are happening,” Ewert said.
Marion County’s bird ecology is fascinating because it’s a fly-through zone for many migrant birds. The reservoir attracts many special birds, Ewert said.
“If it’s really cold, and the reservoir freezes up, we may get 40 to 50 or 70 bald eagles,” Ewert said. “I’ve seen more than 50 bald eagles while driving around the lake.”
Ewert, a Tabor College graduate, considers himself an amateur birder, but has been interested in ornithology for upward of 30 years.
“When I went to Tabor, I was just sort of learning,” he said. “I liked it, but I liked a lot of different things. As I got older, more experienced, I’ve done it all over the United States, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places.”
He said the appeal of birding is different for a lot of people.
“I like being outside,” he said. “It’s different from hunting. I like hunting, I support hunting, but I don’t do it myself. Birding is a way of having fun, whether I go by myself or with friends, and it’s a different experience every time.”
Todd Becker of Eastshore was drawn to birding because of his interest in hunting waterfowl.
“The birding helps me identify the birds better,” Becker said.
He is a neighbor to Hoopes, and said seeing Hoopes walking around with binoculars further piqued his curiosity.
He said he frequently reports his findings on the website www.ebird.org.
“I usually carry a pair of binoculars with me every day,” he said.
He also is participating in the national contest known as “the big year,” in which birders compete to identify as many different species of birds as possible.
Becker said he’s close to 200 species within the state. His teen-age son, Christian Becker, placed second in the state last year.
Becker and Hoopes both intend to go on the Christmas bird count this year with Ewert, who said there are openings available for those interested.
“We always have room for people who want to learn,” Ewert said. “Just bring a pair of binoculars and warm clothes. You don’t have to know much about birds to have fun and to be helpful.”