Members of the Audubon Society flock together monthly to talk about birds and to meet like-minded avian enthusiasts. Each third Tuesday of the month, they come together and share their interests. On May 19, the group hosted Northeastern State University student Laura Hulbert who presented her research about saw-whet owls.
In 1976, members came together to form a chapter of the National Audubon Society, and it invited members from both Muskogee and Cherokee counties. The chapter would rotate locations to give access to members in Muskogee and Tahlequah, but now members primarily meet at the Tahlequah Public Library for meetings.
Four or five times a year, the chapter meets at the library, and for the rest of the year, it meets at different sites in the area so its members can see birds in the wild.
“We have a couple of projects going where we take part in the national survey. One project that we are active in is down at Sequoyah National Wildlife refuge,” said Joyce Varner, club member.
This summer, members are planning to band birds so they can learn more about them.
Varner was introduced to birds by her late husband, but she has learned to appreciate them as much as he did.
“We’ve traveled all throughout the state. I think I’ve been in every county in Oklahoma because we have conferences and field trips where we look at the birds in different parts of the state,” she said.
The Tahlequah chapter of the Audubon Society has financially supported Laura Hulbert’s research on saw-whet owls. She is a senior at NSU and will be working on her master’s degree next year. She was introduced to the saw-whet owl project by her professor, Dr. Mia Revels, professor of biology.
The project started out in 2016. At the time, Hulbert and Revels went to a bird station in Fayetteville, Arkansas where researchers would catch these species of owl. At the time, the belief was that saw-whet owls were not indigenous to Oklahoma, and that the only time that they found themselves in this area was when they got lost in a storm.
Scientists use a tool, OwlNet, an online group that communicates owl-related research throughout the US and parts of Canada, started in the early 1990s, which has allowed Hulbert to be able to connect with other owl researchers.
“We banded the first saw-whet owl in Oklahoma. It was a big deal in the ornithological community. We have caught 60 owls, which indicates that it isn’t a fluke. They are here in the winter. They are just small and hard to find,” said Hulbert.
Saw-whet owls are about 3 ounces in size when they are full grown. Hulbert described the birds as elusive and hard to detect.
In her master’s programme, Hulbert plans to continue her studies with saw-whet owls.
Albert Harris is the president of the Tahlequah chapter of the Audubon Society, and he expressed gratitude for Hulbert and her research. He also is trying to encourage younger folks to join the group.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our members are getting elderly, including myself. It would be great to get some young people to take over the reins and boost things up,” he said.
On Thursday, June 16, the Audubon Society plans to go to Tenkiller State Park at 6 pm The public is welcome to meet at Vidalia’s to buy a picnic to-go at 5:30 pm prior to the trip to the park.
Due to the heat, the Audubon will skip the July meeting, and on August 18, members will go to the overlook at Fort Gibson Dam at the same time.
“You don’t have to be an expert birder to enjoy these endeavors. We have had some of the best naturalists in the country as a part of our group. We have a lot of knowledge base to share,” said Harris.