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Quad-Cities, an area for the birds

ANDALUSIA -- A sharp whistle notified Kelly McKay an Eastern screech owl was nearby.

Dispatch/Argus photo by Pam Berenger

Kelly McKay, research associate for Midwest Raptors Research Fund, said Loud Thunder near Andalusia is an excellent bird watching area as is the Andalusia Slough area. Both are part of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge, which runs roughly from the Quad-Cities to St. Louis.

A blue jay called from another part of the woods bordering the east side of Lake George in Loud Thunder Forest Preserve, while the cold winter breeze carried the rattle of a red-bellied woodpecker from deeper within the woods.

None of the birds was visible to the naked eye. That's usually the way it is, according to Mr. McKay, a research associate for Midwest Raptors Research Fund.

``As you get into birding, nine out of 10 birds you identify are done by call,'' Mr. McKay said. ``Rarely do you see them.''

It takes practice and time, he said. Although he always has loved birds, his education didn't begin until he was in his early teens.

After seeing a van with ``Bald Eagle Research'' written on it, pass the house several times, Mr. McKay's mother chased it down. After explaining her son's interest, the man, Elton Fawks, said the boy could go along.

A friendship developed during the years Mr. McKay traveled with Mr. Fawks, one of the first to point out the effects of the pesticide DDT on eagle reproduction.

The late Pete Peterson also had an huge impact on Mr. McKay, who credits his career choice to Mr. Peterson.

Not every bird watcher has the quality of mentors Mr. McKay had. However, anyone who wants to learn more about the feathered community can join the Quad-Cities chapter of the National Audubon Society.

The group leads about 25 field trips a year and meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Butterworth Center in Moline.

People need to enlist the help of the more experienced and know the various calls, to become really good at bird watching, Mr. McKay said. It's often disappointing to newcomers who expect to see the birds ``right there.'' Birds like to remain undercover, he said. Even eagles remain perched most of the time.

While birds are not always visible, Loud Thunder and other areas around Andalusia are nearly perfect for bird watching, he said.

Two redtailed hawks flew overhead as Mr. McKay explained that tapes are available for those interested in learning to identify birds. Yet, he warns, even that isn't a sure bet. Some birds, like the blue jay can imitate other birds, including an owl. In all, the blue jay has a repertoire of about 10 calls, Mr. McKay said.

``This is a dynamic avianic community, even though this is winter,'' he said. ``We have birds now that we don't have other times of the year.''

Two of those are the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow, a North American migrant that breeds in northern and central Canada and winters in the Midwest.

``This is south to them,'' Mr. McKay said.

The types of birds found in these areas can be divided into permanent residents, North American migrants and neo-tropical migrants, he said. Spring and summer are the migration periods for most.

Crows and hawks are two birds that set up permanent residence in the Midwest. North American migrants are bald eagles, most waterfowl and red-wing blackbirds. Orioles, vireas and hummingbirds fall into the neo-tropical category.

The area is attractive to migrating and permanent birds because of the number of waterways and forests that provide food and shelter.

-- By Pam Berenger (January 26, 1998)

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