Starkville birdwatchers receive top honor


Tim Pratt



A group of local birdwatchers recently helped bring some acclaim to the state of Mississippi.


Oktibbeha Audubon Society members Terry Schiefer, of Starkville, and Jim and Dianne Patterson, of Columbus, were on a birdwatching team dubbed "The Mississippi Team" this fall in Audubon Alaska''s first-ever Arctic Refuge Fall Migration Birding Challenge. For the competition, teams searched for birds in their respective states from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1 in an attempt to spot species which had migrated south from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.


Birds from six continents rely on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for nesting, breeding, staging and molting. The birds'' migratory ranges reach across the Lower 48 states and beyond. 



Birdwatchers from around the United States joined in the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by competing in the inaugural Birding Challenge. The Mississippi Team captured first place after members spotted 87 species, including the Arctic-nesting Baird''s Sandpiper, and a Red Phalarope, which is a type of shorebird, among dozens of species of geese, ducks and other birds. Schiefer spotted the Red Phalarope at Oktibbeha County Lake. 


"Most people wouldn''t think of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Mississippi in the same sentence, but they are directly connected by the birds that nest in the Arctic and make the long journey to winter in Mississippi," said Beth Peluso, communications manager for Audubon Alaska. "It''s great to see the energy and time the Mississippi team members put into exploring that connection. Congratulations to them."


Second place went to the "Cullman 25" team, which rounded up 64 species in Alabama. The "Smoky Hills" team from Kansas took third place with 53 species.


Also on The Mississippi Team were Rob Heflin, of Isola, Wayne Patterson, of Shannon, Mark LaSalle, of Pascagoula, and Stella Wear, of Cleveland. 


Dianne Patterson is president of the Oktibbeha Audubon chapter, while LaSalle is director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Heflin, Wayne Patterson and Wear belong to the Mississippi Ornithological Society. The group regularly exchanges e-mails about bird sightings around the state and decided to form a team for Audubon Alaska''s competition, Dianne Patterson said. Patterson knew The Mississippi Team consisted of "really good birders," but still was surprised to capture the win, she said. 


"I was really surprised because I thought a state like California or some place like that would win the competition," she said. "We''re really excited." 


First prize was the book "Arctic Wings: Birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," edited by Stephen C. Brown and Jimmy Carter. The Oktibbeha Audubon Society plans to present the book to local schools as part of its continuing education and outreach program, Patterson said. 


"Audubon is education," she said. 





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