- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Some folks might wonder why 75-year-old Joe Dickson of Terre Haute would get up at 4 a.m. Saturday to prepare for several hours of bird watching.

But for Dickson, a retired machinist, the answer is easy.

“I love the great outdoors and I like looking at and photographing all the birds,” he told the Tribune-Star. “Most of the enjoyment is the hunt … tracking them down and then getting a good photograph.”

Dickson is believed to be the oldest person who participated in this year’s annual Audubon Terre Haute Christmas Bird Count, which took place Saturday. This was his 26th Christmas Bird Count, having started in the early 1990s.

Although he’s not sure of the exact year, he does remember how he got started in the hobby.

“I’d just had eye surgery and I was sitting around in my backyard in the spring,” Dickson recalled. “I couldn’t do anything and all these birds were around, so my wife (Sue) got me a field guide. And as soon as I could travel again, I went up to Turkey Run State Park and there were a couple of Audubon birders up there. So I teamed up with them because I didn’t know anything. Then they said, ‘Why don’t you join the Wabash Valley Audubon Society?’ So I did and that got me hooked.”

He got so hooked that he’s seen 508 different species of birds from all over the country since then.

Dickson, a member of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society, said he didn’t become good at the Christmas Bird Count until about his fifth year of doing it, mainly because he’d finally learned to identify birds strictly by their song.

“I had memorized about 226 bird songs by then,” he said. “Now I can identify the birds either by the song, without ever seeing them, or just taking a glance at them and knowing immediately what bird they are, even in flight.”

Dickson described Saturday’s watch as “pretty slow,” at least for his standards. He ended up witnessing 12 different species.

“There was one that winters in this area called the white-throated sparrow,” he noted. “Their numbers are on the decline and they only show up during the winter time. They come down from up north. I guess they think it’s warmer here. … All of the rest of the birds were the normal birds that are here most of the time.”

Dickson started right before daylight at Dobbs Park and stopped at 11:45 a.m.

“I drove around the lake and rolled the window down to listen for owls,” he mentioned. “Then when the (Dobbs Park) Nature Center opened up, I set up my camera, lens and tripod and for the rest of the day I watched the birds coming and going and I listened to other birds that you couldn’t see but you could hear through the microphones.”

Dickson later submitted his findings to retired Indiana State University biology professor Peter Scott, who’s in charge of the 2015 Audubon Terre Haute Christmas Bird Count. Scott and some of his fellow “birders” met at M. Moggers Restaurant and Pub to count all of the results Saturday night.

“The reason for all this is to follow the trends of the birds,” Dickson explained. “Are they declining or are they moving to different areas? Is one species increasing over another? … It’s just a way for the National Audubon Society to track how well the birds are doing or how bad they’re doing. All of the information collected goes into a database and the National Audubon Society prints up a book about two months later.”

Scott didn’t have the final local tally when the Tribune-Star caught up with him, but he knew enough to state that grackles, crows and starlings were the three birds most frequently seen Saturday. He added that about 80-plus different species of birds were noticed.

“Eighty is about our average for the last 10 years,” he pointed out, adding that the highest Terre Haute number for a winter count was 91.

A 20-year bird watcher himself, Scott was one of about 25 Wabash Valley Audubon Society members counting Saturday. He spent about 11 1/2 hours on the lookout, beginning at 6:30 a.m.

“It was cold today,” he admitted. “The Weather Channel said it felt like 15 (degrees) at one point. … I went to the Wabashiki area (in western Vigo County). The first thing we did was walk down the levee road along the Wabash River to listen for screech owls and we got one. With the owls, you’ve got to get them before dawn.”

Like Dickson, Scott acknowledged that most of his sightings Saturday were “the usual stuff,” nothing so rare that it required a written report.

The Christmas Bird Count is done all over the country between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, according the audubon.org website.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1QVUYPH

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com


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