We get lots of requests for more stories about birds, and birding, in the Traveler than just about anything else.

Sure, I love to talk about camping, floating, fishing and hunting and you’re guaranteed to read about those things in each issue of the Traveler, but birding?

I really hadn’t thought too much about it, but was told the other day by some MDC folks that birding is the top outdoor activity in Missouri.

Children really enjoy the interactive exhibits at the Springfield center.

I like hearing what our readers enjoy about the Traveler, and things they would like to read about, so let’s start off 2018 with a nice birding story, hopefully one of many to come.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), birders tallied 109 separate species of birds on Dec. 18 during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Four Rivers Conservation Area in Vernon and Bates counties.

The tally didn’t top the record for a Christmas Bird Count in Missouri, which was set in 2016 at Four Rivers with 114 species. But it’s still an impressive number of species that reflects in part a wide variety of habitats at the MDC area and at some other nearby public prairies and wildlife areas.

The National Audubon Society conducts Christmas Bird Counts annually between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 nationally in a tradition that dates to 1900. Data gathered helps scientists monitor winter bird populations and long-term species trends.

MDC staff partners with Audubon members, conservation professionals, and volunteers, for the annual count at Four Rivers and at other locations throughout Missouri. The counts are set within 15-mile wide diameter circles.

At Four Rivers, people participating in the count traverse the area’s wetlands, bottomland forest, agriculture land, restored grassland, and two small remnant native prairies.

Four Rivers provides an impressive number of species for a Christmas Bird Count in Missouri, said Mark Robbins, one of the count organizers and ornithology collections manager at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute.

The wide variety of habitats at Four Rivers helps attract a wide number of species, Robbins said. Plus the count attracts some very good birding experts who are adept at identifying species by sight and sound.

But some species found in the count are related to mild temperatures in autumn and early winter. Birds that normally would have migrated south are lingering and being tallied, reflecting unusually high numbers in the count, such as greater yellowlegs, least sandpiper, and eastern phoebe.

Jimmy Sexton

“You wouldn’t have seen these totals in Missouri 20 years ago or even 15 years ago,” Robbins said. “Climate change is definitely influencing this.”

Unusual birds sighted on the count included an orange-crowned warbler and a white-winged dove. Participants counted 639 red-headed woodpeckers, which were feeding on a strong mast crop of acorns and pecans on the bottomland forest.

Topping the count by numbers were almost 27,000 mallard ducks, reflecting the focus on wetlands at the August A. Busch Memorial Wetlands at Four Rivers Conservation Area.

My son received a new set of Nikon binoculars for Christmas, presumably for deer season. I’m going to ask him if he’d like to try them out birding here when the weather warms a tad.

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Last summer my wife and I, and our two remaining children who live at home (ages 15 and 9), enjoyed visiting different MDC nature centers around the state and taking part in some of their programs.

From seeing the snakes at Twin Pines (we’ll be featuring this conservation center in an upcoming issue) to the turkeys at the Springfield Nature Center, we had a blast.

And now, just announced at the close of 2017, there’s a new way to sign up for MDC nature programs. Thousands of people that attend hiking, archery, kayaking and other nature programs can now manage their attendance whenever it’s convenient for them.

Instead of calling the center during business hours, registrations are now made online at www.mdc.mo.gov/events.

“All of MDC’s programs across the state are available at the website, so people can register for an event at any location they plan to travel to, or designate their local nature center in the search criteria,” said Jaime Koehler, assistant manager at the Cape Nature Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

While we didn’t make it to the Cape Center last year, it is at the top of our list for 2018.

Koehler said the first step in registering for a program is creating a profile. This takes a few minutes, but once a profile is created, signing up for future programs is very simple.

“Just sign in and click the ‘register’ button,” she said.

The online registration is convenient for the public since they can now register at any time of day instead of waiting for a facility to be open.

“Nearly everyone uses technology to email, text, and make purchases, so we felt it was time to provide this service for the benefit of the public,” Koehler said.

Once someone creates their profile and registers for an event, they can choose to receive email reminders and additional details about each program, they can cancel their attendance if needed and they can do this whenever it is convenient for them.

There’s no need to remember to call MDC during business hours. MDC will also use the system to evaluate which types of programs the nature centers, ranges, interpretive sites, and other facilities should focus on.

The registration program will generate statewide reports to give MDC information on which programs are needed, wanted, or unsuccessful.

Koehler said to expect continued improvements, such as a family registration function, where multiple family members could register at once. Currently, a profile is created for each person.

If help is needed, there’s a toll-free number on the registration page or nature center staff are happy to help people transition to the new system.

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The MDC has announced the dates for the 2018 deer and turkey hunting seasons.

They are:

2018 SPRING AND FALL TURKEY HUNTING DATES

• Spring Youth Portion: April 7-8.

• Regular Spring Turkey Season: April 16 through May 6.

• Fall Firearms Turkey Season: Oct. 1-31.

2018-2019 ARCHERY DEER AND TURKEY HUNTING DATES

• Archery Season: Sept. 15 through Nov. 9, and Nov. 21 through Jan. 15, 2019.

2018-2019 FIREARMS DEER HUNTING DATES

• Firearms Deer Early Youth Portion: Oct. 27-28.

• Firearms Deer November Portion: Nov. 10-20.

• Firearms Deer Late Youth Portion: Nov. 23-25.

• Firearms Deer Antlerless Portion: Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.

• Firearms Deer Alternative Methods Portion: Dec. 22 through Jan. 1, 2019.

 

Details on hunting regulations, harvest limits, allowed methods, required permits, and other related information will be available in the MDC’s “2018 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” and the “2018 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklets.

Both will be available where permits are sold prior to the related seasons. Learn more about deer and turkey hunting in Missouri at www.huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/.

Missouri hunting (and fishing) permits can be purchased from numerous vendors around the state, online at www.mdc.mo.gov/buypermits, or through MDC’s free mobile apps, MO Hunting and MO Fishing, available for download through Google Play for Android devices or the App Store for Apple devices.

(Jimmy Sexton is owner and publisher of the River Hills Traveler. He can be reached at (800) 874-8423, ext. 1, or jimmy@riverhillstraveler.com.)