Wintertime in Southeast Missouri can be rough…temperatures bottom out and sunshine is often scarce. But it can also be the perfect time for bird watching. Winter terrains make hungry songbirds stand out; the leafless trees make it easier to spot perching birds; and the frozen lakes and ponds lend themselves to the waterfowl’s appearance as they seek open water. These conditions are perfect for the beginner trying out this new hobby and for the seasoned bird watcher to sharpen his or her skills.
Alma and Dee Curry have an uncanny skill of capturing a bird’s personality.
Many of our regional parks are noted for wintertime bird-watching.
At Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, you can find yourself at the highest point in Missouri. It seems the birds like it there. Elephant Rocks State Park has over 131 acres that have been designated as a Missouri Natural Area to be protected from further development. Johnson's Shut-ins State Park has been noted as a bird watcher’s paradise, and Alley Springs is considered a hot-spot because of its large representation of species.
In these parks, as well as in our natural areas, you can look in the brushy areas (with berries, nuts or other food) for songbirds and finches or scout the open fields that attract birds of prey hunting for rodents. Rivers and streams will also bring in all those birds that rely on marine plants and animals as a food source such as gulls, ducks and geese.
Even though the parks, in winter, can be a bird watcher’s playground, they can also be dangerous. The number one rule of wintertime birding is to be safe. Melissa Mayntz, birding/wild bird expert, suggests in the Audubon website to be sure and dress in layers, stay in safe areas, and know the weather before you go.
If you are not quite the type to plunge bravely into the cold temperatures, then you might want to take the birding advice of Barb Brueggeman, Web Editor for the Missouri Division of Tourism. She suggests birding from your car. What can be better than pursuing your pastime with a warm thermos of cocoa?
...bird watch from your own home.
Finally, if you were meant for warmer weather and the thought of a park in wintertime leaves you chilly, then bird watch from your own home. Bird feeders in the winter time provide color and entertainment. Beginners can start by counting the different species of birds and then by learning to identify the bird species. Be sure to put out a supply of fresh water if all around is frozen.
Recently, we met up with a couple at Ally Spring State Park who are cuckoo for photographing birds. We asked them to show us a few tricks of photographing birds. Meet Alma and Dee Curry—bird nuts.
573: Tell about yourselves.
Alma: I was the youngest of 10 kids, grew up in the country and learned to love nature at a young age. I had polio at age three which left me with a permanent limp but did not prevent me from doing anything I set my mind to do. We have one daughter and two granddaughters.
Dee: I was raised on a dairy farm. I retired in 2008 after a fourth hip replacement. During recovery from the fourth replacement, setting out in our yard swing, I found an interest in bird watching. We decided to put out a bird feeder and that was the start.
573: Alma, when did you first get interested in birds?
I took photos all my life but wanted to advance to a better quality of photos. Having lots of spare time, I began noticing all the different birds that were showing up at different times of the year and learned about migration. We searched each different bird we saw and learned what they eat and what their migration season was. We began putting out the right food to attract each kind of bird at their season to migrate and found it lured them into the yard. We also started a flower garden where we had our feeders and planted the type flowers that also lured in certain species, especially hummingbirds and goldfinches as well as plants to lure butterflies. We also planted a hedge as we learned it was necessary to have something the birds could hide in when in danger from things like cats and hawks.
Backyard shooting is considerable fun and can be relaxing at the same time. If you’re an early riser, you can take a cup of coffee out to sip, or if you are a late riser a glass of tea or coke while waiting on the early birds. Filling your bird feeders in the late afternoon will provide for the early birds. This can be doves, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and others depending on the season.
573: What are some tips for getting good shots?
The most important thing for bird photography is patience, patience, patience. You have to sit quietly and wait, sometimes for a long time, before just the right bird shows up. They have to learn you are not going to harm them before they will come close. Also, learn to anticipate the movement of the birds. You will find they are pretty consistent in their movements. A zoom lens, of course, helps to get closer photos. Make sure you are focused before snapping that shot. It’s hard to not hurry when you see that eagle sitting in a tree in front of you.
Original writing by Susan Barber from 573 Magazine's January 2015 issue.