‘The sky is the limit’ for new nature group at Ole Miss

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John Cooper Lawton

A new Ole Miss nature group has taken flight on campus.

On Sept. 28, Ole Miss Birders led a bird-watching expedition of 13 people, including nine Ole Miss students, to Hurricane Landing, a section of Sardis Lake known for its active wildlife. With the help of experienced birders Gene Knight and Dr. Jason Hoeksema, the group spotted a total of 24 different species of birds on the trip.

Members of the club saw great egrets, killdeer, blue herrings and American white pelicans among other birds. They learned how to identify different species by call and appearance, while learning birding lingo and techniques.

“As a person who has gone birding before, this is a very good beginning birding trip,” said Thomas Moorman, a member of Ole Miss Birders. “There hasn’t been a ton of birds, nor has there been a little. It’s been a wide variety of birds both big and small.”

This was the second outing for the newest organization on campus, which was formed Aug. 25. The organization has exceeded 75 members on its Facebook page and, according to Nick Dugan, president of Ole Miss Birders Nick Dugan, it looks to continue this momentum.

“We had a good showing of students and people from the Oxford community,” Dugan said. “A lot of the older participants were able to teach us things.

The club’s main goal is to educate students on the wide variety of birds that Mississippi has to offer, while raising awareness for them.

“Being a member of the club will help gain a greater appreciation for the natural wildlife Mississippi has to offer and, sometimes, that’s overlooked a lot, especially by college students,” Dugan said. “Not only will they gain more knowledge on birds, and fielding for birds, and identifying their calls, but just appreciate the time that they get to spend within nature.”

Ole Miss Birders has a wide variety of members, including experienced bird-watchers and beginners. According to Dr. Hoeksema, faculty adviser for the organization, it welcomes anyone.

“The sky is the limit in terms of how much you can learn with birding,” Hoeksema said. “I’m excited to help these guys have an opportunity to increase their appreciation with birds, and that will be something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Dugan said the club will be involved in many activities other than bird watching. He said many people have expressed interest in becoming involved, but may not be interested in bird-watching.

“Now that we’ve done a fielding experience and a volunteer experience, I’m excited to start fundraising for an organization that we decide to partner with,” Dugan said. “Being able to raise money for a cause that we can all gather behind is going to be the next wave of how we use our influence on campus.”

Dugan expressed interest in partnering with Hoeksema’s nonprofit Delta Wind Birds, an organization that focuses on paying private land owners to create ponds for shore birds, such as sandpipers, that migrate through Mississippi.

“I feel like our evolvement with Delta Wind Birds is our most valuable resource,” Dugan said. “Later on in the semester, we’re going to be partnering with Delta Wind Birds. I’ve really been leaning on his knowledge.”

Delta Wind Birds also focuses on education. It holds educational workshops and birding field trips. Ole Miss Birders will join the nonprofit at some of these events.

“That gives us a chance to talk to the participants about our mission and educate them about these birds, but also it provides us a little income that we can then use to provide habitats for these birds,” Hoeksema said. “We conduct these field trips regularly, and the Ole Miss Birders will be invited and really welcomed to come on those field trips for free.”

Hoeksema’s connections to the birding community are a great asset to Ole Miss Birders. He is able to bring experienced birders to events. Hoeksema’s friend Gene Knight, an experienced birder, was an integral part of the Ole Miss Birders’s expedition on Sunday and will continue to make appearances.

“He’s definitely the dean or chancellor of birding of northern Mississippi,” Dr. Hoeksema said. “He’s also been somewhat of a pioneer. Not a lot of people in Mississippi have the experience and knowledge he does about where and when to look for birds in Mississippi and how to identify them.”

The club reaches out to students in many different ways. They have accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Moorman said he found out about Ole Miss Birders through its very active Facebook page.

“I saw Kelly’s face on the body of a bald eagle on Facebook,” Moorman said. “I was concerned, distraught and confused. So I came to the interest meeting.”

Vice President of Ole Miss Birders Cullen Patrick said he thinks Ole Miss Birders is a great way to branch out from the usual activities.

“It’s quirky, cool and kinda funny,” Patrick said. “I think it’s something someone interested in biology and nature should look in to. It’s a great way to have fun without doing all the cliché fun things in Oxford.”

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