It's birding, or birdwatching, and a group of the feathered friend enthusiasts will meet at Otter Slough on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2:15 PM to take part in a special session of what has become the most popular spectator sport in Missouri.
The group is called the Swamp Candle Birders after a prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird also referred to as a Golden Swamp Warbler or Swamp Candle. The group of bird watching enthusiasts formed about two years ago. They meet once and sometimes twice monthly at the Missouri Department of Conservation's Nature Center in Cape Girardeau, often going on a short watching expedition following some time at the center.
Candle Birders of Southeast Missouri are dedicated to helping discover, appreciate and conserve southeast Missouri's birds and their natural habitats. There are no dues to pay, just good times to be experienced, says local member Shirley Stephens of Bernie, who will be part of Saturday's field trip to Otter Slough.
"Everyone is welcome to come along," Stephens says, "from the young folks to adults of all ages -- from beginners to experienced birders."
The tour at the slough is rated "easy," according to Stephens, and visitors can expect to see an abundance of ducks, geese, and other migratory birds that are passing through Southeast Missouri during this time. Possible sightings include Winter Wrens and Horned Larks, along with many other varieties of smaller birds of the field and forest. Otter Slough offers an ideal habitat for a number of migratory species.
Experienced birders will lead Saturday's birdwatching event. Steven Juhlin, who serves as assistant manager at the Nature Center in Cape, will accompany the group, along with Bruce Beck who is the past president of the Missouri Audubon Society. Also planning on attending is Allen Gathman, Ph.D from Southeast Missouri State University, professor of biology.
"We'll be concentrating on the waterfowl at the slough," Juhlin said Tuesday. "Many of the birds normally found in the northern U.S. and in Canada are making their way to the area. Otter Slough has had so many rare bird sightings over the years. We look forward to seeing some of those unusual species."
Of the over 800 species found in North America, over 400 different kinds of birds have been identified in Missouri. Many of those are commonly witnessed at Otter Slough. The reason for the abundance of birds in the region is open space and the diversity of habitat, according to conservation experts. The slough contains 2,200 acres of wetlands as well as cropland, forest and fields. Although the 4,886-acre area is managed primarily for migratory and wintering waterfowl, many wading birds, shorebirds, eagles and wetland mammals make Otter Slough Conserva-tion Area their home. Anxious birders hope to get a glimpse of some of those Saturday.
To reach Otter Slough, travel west of Dexter on Highway 60, then 10 miles south on Route ZZ to County Road 675. Turn west on 675 and travel two miles to the area entrance, which is well marked. The Swamp Candle Birders will meet and welcome all guests
at the Headquarters Building at the slough.