Although you cannot tell by looking, this is a group of "citizen scientists", who, less than 24 hours earlier, had all been complete strangers to each other! However, they all had at least one thing in common---a desire to make the world a better place through wise use of our natural resources.
The group met at the Harp Environmental Field Station, located on a mountain top, above the Buffalo River at Toney Bend. We were there to participate in the longest running Citizen Science Survey in the world!
A plaque on the wall at the entrance to the field station, gives a history of the person for whom the station is named. The Field Station is under the "umbrella" of the National Park Service, and serves many purposes in the on-going mission of the park service, to be a steward of the Buffalo National River.
The large space has several rooms with bunk beds: there are also conference rooms, dining room, laundry room, restrooms, kitchen, and expansive outdoor decks.
Our host for the event was National Park Service Ranger/Interpreter, Michael Simpson. He arrived with five large pizzas from the prize winning artisan pizza making spot called "Nima's", of Gassville, Arkansas
Seeing the beautiful design on top of this pizza, makes it easy to see why they have won numerous national pizza competitions!
We were told that preparing the ingredients for a pizza like the one in this photo, takes two days, because of the special marinades they use on the fresh ingredients.
Even though it was a bit of a drive for the park ranger to get from Nima's in Gassville, Arkansas, to the Rush, Arkansas, area where our group was located, the overwhelming delight of the diners showed the trip was worth it! We owe a big THANK YOU to the Buffalo National River Partners (www.BNRPartners.org ) for making it possible for us to enjoy such a gourmet treat!
After supper, we had a program by Jack Stewart (A Director for the National Audubon Society), that taught us about the Christmas Bird Count. This is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere done annually by volunteer birdwatchers, and administered by the National Audubon Society ( www.audubon.org ). Previous to the twentieth century, it was a common practice in the days around Christmas to have "side hunts", where the only goal was to see how many birds could be killed in a single hunt. However, in 1900, a U.S. ornithologist proposed counting birds at this time of year instead of killing them. Since then, the counts have been held every winter. The first year, there were 25 observers in 27 places in the U.S. and Canada. During the 113th count (2013), 71,531 people participated in 2,369 locations!
Jack Stewart explained to our group that the census is performed in a "count circle" with a diameter of 15 miles.
To make sure our volunteers were "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed", there was plenty of hot coffee prepared for us, as we all got up long before dawn!
It was a beautiful sight to see the white fog above the Buffalo River Valley in the first light of the day, as we emerged from out mountain top location, to greet the birds!
We started out with flash lights, but slowly the morning light revealed the vastness of the landscape in front of us.
It is customary for every small group to have a recorder, who writes down the name of the bird seen, and makes hash marks, to indicate how many of that particular species.
It was an interesting coincidence that two of the ladies in the group---both of them graduates of Harrison High School (albeit in different centuries!)---would each be sporting embroidered patches that read "Ski Marble Falls--Dogpatch, Arkansas"!!
As our group was finishing up their dawn bird census, the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon. We had done an "owl prowl" the night before, but the birds heard from that experience could not be counted, because the Christmas Bird Count does not officially start until one minute after midnight on December 14, and runs through January 5, 2015.
It wasn't until I started writing this blog, that I realized that the people shown in this photo are doing what Jesus Himself told us to do! Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Matthew 6:26.
Participation in the Christmas Bird Count is open to all, and is free. I was there as a volunteer from the Arkansas Master Naturalist group ( www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ), but other folks helping with the count were not members of any particular organization; rather, they just wanted to be a part of such a worthwhile endeavor as the Christmas Bird Count. If you would like to participate, go to the Christmas Bird Count ( CBC ) section of the Audubon web site, to find out more details.
Iwant to thank National Park Service Ranger Michael Simpson for being an inspiring host/interpreter for our group, and recommend you check out the park service website ( www.nps.gov/buff ) to find out more about the wonderful outdoor opportunties that await you in the Ozarks! It will give you "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia