One for the birds
Hobby offers inexpensive fun outdoors
- By Matt Fite / Special to My Life
- Posted June 24, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.
Photo by Kim Odom, Photos by Kim Odom/The Commercial Appeal
Dick Preston, president of Tennessee Ornithological Society, shares facts about common backyard birds at various exhibitions and shows held throughout the Mid-South.
Preston says the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of "hummers" found in this area. "They're (the eggs) so small that two eggs can fit a walnut shell," he said.
David Blaylock is president of the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society.
Photo by Kim Odom, Kim Odom/The Commercial Appeal
At a recent outdoor event in Lakeland, Preston amazed the crowd with details of an acorn woodpecker food storage locker. Preston explained the holes in the branch store acorns for woodpeckers to feed on.
Dick Preston, president of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, said one of the things that makes bird-watching fascinating is when a bird shows up in a part of the world where it's not supposed to be found.
About 20 years ago, he says, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a rare visitor from Asia, showed up near the Allen Steam Plant in Memphis.
"Hundreds of people came to see it," recalled Preston, who lives in Munford.
Last December, a Hooded Crane, another Asian bird, was spotted in the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge east of Chattanooga. Thousands of people from across the state and beyond hurried to see that out-of-place, spectacular creature.
Preston, 63, who served 27 years in the Marine Corps and has lived in several countries, said there are birds on every continent, including Antarctica. To people in earlier times, Preston said, it was
fascinating that birds could even fly.
Watching birds doesn't have to cost anything and it's better than sitting indoors, Preston says.
Originally from Jersey City, N.J., Preston reached Eagle Scout status in the Boy Scouts. In Scouting, he learned to love the outdoors. His parents and one of his teachers encouraged him in his love of bird-watching.
When he joined the Marines, he got the chance to see birds around the world.
Now retired from the Marines, he works part time for the U.S. Census Bureau.
He is in his second term of heading up the statewide Tennessee Ornithological Society. He is a past president of the Memphis chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Preston said members come from all walks of life. Their level of bird-watching skills range from newcomers to professional biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
There are 11 chapters across the state, and Memphis has the second-highest level of membership.
The purpose of the organization, officially, is "to promote the science of ornithology in Tennessee, to publish the results of its investigations, to stand for the passage and enforcement of wise and judicious laws for bird protection, and to promote bird study and protection by any other means that may from time to time be deemed advisable."
The organization publishes a journal, The Migrant, and conducts bird surveys.
The Memphis chapter holds 7 p.m. meetings on the third Wednesday of each month, from September to May, at St. George's Episcopal Church in Germantown. The next meeting is Sept. 19.
Additionally, one to four bird walks are held each month. Preston said these are easy walks, not too difficult for older children or senior citizens. The club makes short trips (about an hour's drive) frequently and longer treks on occasion.
Preston said the best way to learn to identify local birds is to get outdoors with an experienced bird-watcher.
He said a pair of binoculars -- which would probably cost about $100 -- makes the experience 10 times as enjoyable.
An inexpensive field guide completes the equipment that a novice bird-watcher would want.
Preston recommends a few websites: tnbirds.org, the official website of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, tnwatchablewildlife.org and birdsource.org, from Cornell University, a website including webcams that let viewers watch wild birds live.
Preston said the Mid-South is in a major flyway, and excellent places to bird-watch include Shelby Forest, Shelby Farms, Overton Park, Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Miss., and Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell, Ark.