Audubon Society members gather monthly to talk about birds and meet like-minded bird enthusiasts. Every third Tuesday of the month, they get together and share their interests. On May 19, the group hosted Laura Hulbert, a student at Northeastern State University, who presented her research on boreal owls.
In 1976, members came together to form a chapter of the National Audubon Society, and it invited members from Muskogee and Cherokee counties. The chapter would rotate locations to provide access to Muskogee and Tahlequah members, 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 that its members can see birds in the wild.
“We have a few projects underway where we are participating in the national survey. One project we are active in is at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge,” said club member Joyce Varner.
This summer, members plan to band the birds to learn more about them.
Varner was introduced to birds by her late husband, but she grew to appreciate them as much as he did.
“We traveled all over the state. I think I’ve been to every county in Oklahoma because we have conferences and field trips where we look at birds in different parts of the state,” she said.
The Tahlequah Chapter of the Audubon Society financially supported Laura Hulbert’s research on pygmy owls. She is a senior at NSU and will be working on her master’s degree next year. She was introduced to the Little Owl Project by her teacher, Dr. Mia Revels, a biology professor.
The project began in 2016. At the time, Hulbert and Revels traveled to an ornithological station in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where researchers were catching this species of owl. At the time, the belief was that pygmy owls were not native to Oklahoma and that the only time they ended up in this area was when they got lost in a storm.
Scientists use a tool, OwlNet, an online group that communicates research on owls in the United States and parts of Canada, launched in the early 1990s, which allowed Hulbert to connect with others owl researchers.
“We have banded Oklahoma’s first Saw-whet Owl. It was a big deal in the birding community. We caught 60 owls, indicating that this is no accident. They are here in the winter. They’re just small and hard to find,” Hulbert said.
Little owls measure about 3 ounces when fully grown. Hulbert described the birds as elusive and difficult to detect.
In his master’s program, Hulbert plans to continue his studies with the saw-whet owl.
Albert Harris is the president of the Tahlequah chapter of the Audubon Society, and he expressed his gratitude for Hulbert and his research. He also tries to encourage young people to join the group.
“Unfortunately, many of our members are getting older, myself included. It would be great to have young people take the reins and energize things,” he said.
On Thursday, June 16, the Audubon Society plans to head to Tenkiller State Park at 6 p.m. The public is invited to meet at Vidalia to buy a picnic to take away at 5:30 p.m. before the trip to the park.
Due to the heat, the Audubons will skip the July meeting, and on August 18, members will travel to Fort Gibson Dam Lookout at the same time.
“You don’t have to be an expert birder to profit from these efforts. We had some of the best naturalists in the country as part of our group. We have a lot of knowledge to share,” Harris said.