Ole Miss Birders take to the sky

Grace Sullivan

The Ole Miss Birders is one of the university’s newest official clubs. This flock of students took to the skies of Hurricane Landing at Sardis reservoir for its first official bird watching field trip Sunday, Sept. 28.

Under the instruction of faculty sponsor Jason Hoeksema, the group successfully spotted and identified many species of birds, several of which are migratory and not often seen in the area.

Birder Jimmy Ardis spots a specimen

Birder Jimmy Ardis spots a specimen at Hurricane Landing.

“We didn’t just go to Hurricane Landing because it’s a good place, we went there specifically to see the migrating warblers and such, “ said Nick Dugan, president and founder of Ole Miss Birders.

Avid birders and friends of Dr. Hoeksema from the Oxford area joined the students Sunday in an effort to bring the university and community together.

“I think the idea that we had people from the Oxford community come was really great, because they have more experience doing this, and we could lean on them,” Dugan said. “We got to hear some funny terms and learn some tricks of the trade.”

Faculty sponsor and local ornithologist Jason Hoeksema, referred to by the birders as “Dr. H,” told students that talking to the birds is sometimes necessary.

Dr. Jason Hoeksema observes a Flycatcher bird in a nearby tree.

“You’ll notice that we do a lot of birding by sound,” Hoeksema said. “It really helps a lot if you can learn some of the basic songs and calls.”

One standard call discussed on Sunday was a technique called “pishing.”

“Basically, you walk around making a really obscure noise, and it’s supposed to simulate a rodent that birds like to go after,” Dugan explained. The technique is only sometimes worth the awkwardness of making it.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t work at all, and you end up embarrassing yourself,” Hoeksema said. “But usually you’re around other birders so you can do whatever you want.”

While in search of a warbler playing hide-and-seek, local ornithologist Gene Knight gave the students a shock by crying out, “let’s nuke him!”

“The term ‘nuking’ the birds was interesting; it sounds very dangerous,” Dugan said. “But that’s when you play an audio recording of a predator, which makes smaller birds come out of hiding and swoop around to check, ‘Is he actually here? Do we need to tell the other birds to get out of here?’” Dugan explained.

Local ornithologist Gene Knight joined the birders to offer his expertise.

Local ornithologist Gene Knight joined the birders to offer his expertise.

Dugan considers the Hurricane Landing field trip a success and a milestone in what has been a dream of his and Hoeksema’s for quite some time.

“In high school, I had wanted to start a birding club, and they shut me down,” Dugan said. “It broke my little kid heart. So I came into college keeping the idea on the back burner, and I think the reason it took me until my sophomore year is because I was waiting to find the right faculty adviser.”

When Dugan approached Hoeksema, his former microbiology teacher, the fit was perfect. “Dr. H,” as it turned out, was already an avid birder and founder of the non-profit Delta Wind Birds.

“He said he’s been thinking about doing something for a long time, but didn’t think there was enough interest, as far as the community,” Dugan said of Hoeksema.

As the community of support continues to grow, Dugan hopes to expand the Ole Miss Birders by attracting students with a range of interests.

The Ole Miss Birders trek through Hurricane Landing with eyes open for birds.

The Ole Miss Birders trek through Hurricane Landing with eyes open for birds.

“I think a deterrent for a lot of people when I talk about the club is the idea that they don’t want to be walking around in the sun for a few hours looking at birds,” Dugan said. “While we haven’t made a push to do it yet this semester, I anticipate doing a large fundraiser for wildlife conservation organizations, and I think that’s a good way for students to get involved that don’t want to go off campus and get dirty looking at birds.”

Information about the Ole Miss Birders can be found on the Facebook page Ole Miss Birders, on Twitter at @umbirders and on Instagram at @olemiss_birders.

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