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Out on the (bird)walk

Northwest Guardian

Published: 06:54AM May 2nd, 2015

There are more birdies on Eagles Pride Golf Course on Joint Base Lewis-McChord than the ones found throughout the 27 greens.

For the past two years, these groups have walked a three-to-four mile path separate from where other patrons utilize the 27 total holes for golf on the third Thursday of every month. The focus is to observe the wildlife that lives on the grounds of Eagles Pride with the goal to discover new species of bird.

April 16 marked the group’s 25th nature walk, which yielded 25 bird watchers armed with a mixture of binoculars, cameras and tripods — the largest group. There was only six in the inaugural walk, including organizers David Wienecke — environmental system manager for golf courses at JBLM’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation — and Seattle Audubon certified bird watcher Denis DeSilva.

After meeting at the driving range, the group made their way along parts of Eagles Pride’s Green Course and into secluded areas between the course and neighboring woodlands and residential neighborhoods of DuPont. Many, like DeSilvis, were able to recognize the songs of different birds.

There were moments of excitement when the songs led the group to spot lesser seen species like a nest of bushtits — which prefer to hide their nests from other animals in an effort to protect their eggs. At one moment, someone spotted a black-throated grey warbler — the other 24 quickly flocked and stationed their binoculars to see it on the top of a tall maple.

It’s already on the list of 95 birds discovered in past two years, but it’s very early in the season to see them and other species like the brown headed cowbird and the sharp-shin hawk.

“Today is amazing,” DeSilva said, a retired Navy master chief who currently resides in Roy. “It helps to have more eyes and ears together.”

Discovering a new breed can be a challenge in itself, the last was a hairy woodpecker found Oct. 16, 2014, the fifth type of woodpecker found on the JBLM golf course. The red crossbill — a type of finch that was one of the first found by the group — is a common sight on Eagles Pride.

It’s unusual for that breed because they typically don’t stay in one place, yet several are found almost every month.

“We’re becoming known as a hot spot for a couple of species,” said David Wienecke, environmental system manager for golf courses at JBLM’s Family and MWR. “Because of word getting out among birders in the state, our number of participants is going up.”

Many members of the group are also regulars of a group that tours the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, where there is an average annual count of about 150 different species. But Nisqually contains mostly shore birds while JBLM has been home for waterfowl and forest breeds — attracting bird enthusiasts from as far south as Centralia and even a couple from Gig Harbor.

After each nature walk, Russ Smith, of University Place, takes the list of species they discovered and entered it into eBird — an online database managed by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. The site helps track the basis of bird population trends throughout the United States.

“It’s sort of a citizen science and everyone contributes,” Smith said. “It’s also good to know what is being seen where, so you know where to go.”

It adds more of a fun challenge to be able to spot a rare bird locally in Washington state, which sometimes requires photographic proof. It’s why Richard Smethurst created a hand-made bushing out of teak wood to fit as an attachment and uses a regular point-and-shoot camera to get a picture of a bird who could be more than 300 yards away.

“I don’t get magazine quality pictures, but good enough to identify them,” Smethurst said.

Despite not having found a new species of bird in six months, each trip around the course brings something new. Last month, the group found a red hawk pair making a nest within view of the path so everyone can see the process of them laying their eggs and fledging their young.

Wienecke recalls owls observing the bird watching group for about half an hour during a separate trip. There was another instance where someone used a smart phone application to respond to a bird’s call from the trees — a family of four acorn woodpeckers came out.

“Throughout the year, we see different groups of species,” Wienecke said. “This time of year will be a good time for waterfowl. Each month is a little bit different because of how the bird population cycles through the ecosystem.”