Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Whole Prospective on Ornithology

Every now and then, you find yourself in a physical place where everything feels balanced and whole. Upon entering the doors of SIA, the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative, I felt that balance right away. I had no idea what to expect, but felt certain I was going to be shown something inspiring and enriching. I was not disappointed. (Above, a male Adult Golden Eagle at the Wichita Mountains, one of SIA's many raptors)

The director, Bill Voelker (left with Temma, the Augur Buzzard, Buteo rufofuscus augur), and I had been trying to make a personal introduction with one another for a little over two years. Apparently we just had to wait for the right time, allowing the world to decided to bring us together, and let me tell you it was quite the meeting!

I spent a great deal of time telling Troy and Bill, co-founders of SIA, just exactly what the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program was up to in the state. Of particular importance was my work with the Lesser Prairie Chicken in the Northwestern portions of Oklahoma. I was aware of the prairie chickens importance to the Native American communities in the region, however I wanted to know more, which they obliged. But that is a discussion for another time. After talking, they showed me around the place. I feel my visit will be best represented through my photos, and photos that they have provided for this post.

Enjoying a lunch inside their aviary that I could not refuse, Salmon and salad, I had a great opportunity to view a couple of species of birds that I've never had the pleasure of seeing.

Blue-necked Tanagers, Tangara cyanicollis

Luzon Bleeding Heart Dove, Gallicolumba luzonica

It is hard to describe much of what I saw and felt on my first visit to SIA. Personally it was spiritually uplifting, professionally.....well it's all the same! The organization has spent the last thirty years developing an idea that many would be fearful of approaching, and apparently some were. They are working to re-invigorate the spiritual connection between birds, especially eagles, and the Native American community as well as other communities. This is something I have spent time thinking about and realised myself, particularly with the LEPC. If I am unable to make a connection between people and what the prairie chicken should represent to them, I might as well throw my hat in. Fortunately I believe the Oklahoma Audubon Council and the IBA program, with the help and new ideas from SIA and other partners, we are making those connections; and for that reason I am filled with optimism. So with that little notion I am going to leave you with a bunch more photos from my visit to SIA as well as a few that have been provided by the co-directors Bill and Troy. Don't forget to take a look at the youtube video to the side, a great visual and musical representation of SIA's work.

Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus,

Bonelli's Eagle, Aquila fasciata

Shiva the Ornate Hawk Eagle and Troy, co-founder of SIA

Saturday, February 13, 2010

From My Heart the Prairie

It is my pleasure to offer an opportunity to directly impact a local population of a Global Species of Conservation Concern. The Lesser Prairie Chicken (photo by Steve Metz) is an endemic species of North American grouse, and although the species is facing a number of issues, we can create a safer prairie for them to travel in. While we work in other arenas to address the larger issues of habitat loss due to the threat of unregulated energy development, we can positively impact this local population by marking and removing fences that cause such a high mortality rate in the species, particularly in Oklahoma. By impacting this local population through the formerly mentioned actions, we can help to increase overall yearly reproduction. I have mapped and identified 15 miles of fence along the southern portion of the Cimaron Bluffs Wildlife Management Area, a location that was purchased by the ODWC specifically for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. This conservation action, fence marking/removal, is expensive and time consuming. With the support of volunteers and our many partners, we can greatly impact a location in just a few hours; whereas it may take a team of two field technicians as many as 6-7 days to complete, along with thousands of man hour dollars.

Not only is this a way for the birding community to impact this population of threatened birds, it can also stand to show the state legislatures and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation that we are willing to support the birds we all love so much and show we care about what is happening in the western portion of this great state. It is time to realise that this species needs our help; the scientists, Oklahoma Gas and Electric and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have been doing thier jobs to the best of their ability. They are purchasing lands, they are developing maps and tools for developers and they are talking with landowners. This issue can not be solved by sitting back and hoping that their efforts will solve all of the Lesser Prairie Chickens' problems. We need to show them that we care, that we can help, that we can take the time out of our busy lives, drive east, west, north or south and spend a weekend devoting ourselves to this issue. It doesn't have to end with the fifteen miles; that is merely my meager goal for this event. If you show me that we can go further, I will provide the necessary materials to make it happen on those days.

Please accept this invitation! I can promise you a few things if you join me the weekend of March 6th and 7th. I can promise you some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Oklahoma. I can promise you a time of shared goodwill; knowing that we are all there to give with our open hearts. I can promise you birds, not sure which ones but I can promise they will be there. We spend our time counting, listing and sharing with each other the beauty of these wondrous creatures that fill us with pride, joy, and over all well being; we willingly take from the birds in that way. It is now time to give . We cannot wait any longer, this bird represents an endangered ecosystem and as we sit and watch the battles back and forth, we show that we are willing to say good bye. I am not willing, my heart burns with passion for this species. They represent a historical connection for this land's Native American roots, this species represents America in all of its individuality.The Lesser Prairie Chicken does not exist outside of the continental United States. It represents what is left of the great prairie ocean, and when standing on a hilltop in the early spring with the smell of sandsage in the air you can hear the echos of the past through these birds.

Not so many years ago, I was placed in the leadership role of Coordinator for the Oklahoma Important Bird Areas program. You have seen my passion, sometimes the bite that it carries, but I am here standing and I need you to stand beside me. This issue will not disappear, but we can stand together and make an impact.

Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in details for this event. or
Eric Beck
State Coordinator
Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coming Full Circle

* This blog was first published without editing. My wife and editor wants everyone to know that the copious amount of grammatical errors were not her fault, and that she has since edited.

We were without power for almost seven days. I haven't been out in the field in a couple of weeks, and I honestly haven't been doing very much birding lately; so this post is a smattering of a few things: a damage report, a little about some reading I've been doing, and finally something to think about that I noticed in Lawton, all nicely wrapped up right here!

I've been spending my time cleaning up the front yards of both mine and my neighbors' houses, which are littered with, well tree litter. Just don't ask about the backyard; I'm trying to ignore it! As always I'm keeping things rolling with the Important Bird Areas program, and I should have an update finished for the project in the very near future. I will post a link here later so anyone who is interested can check it out. In between those times I've been keeping my nose buried in Wade Davis's "One River," just trying to keep the brain moving, but in a relaxing way. There's a great video on "Ted Talks" in which Dr. Davis discusses endangered cultures, if you want to get an idea of this brilliant man's efforts.

This is the second time I've picked up "One River;" it's been well over ten years since the last time so it's pretty much like reading it for the first time. To sumarize, he discusses the ethnobotanical adventures of Richard Schultes, his mentor, and then treads off on his own adventures through the depths of the Amazon. I highly recommend the book; it is truly fascinating.
There was a chapter early on that was especially interesting and got me thinking about something I saw in downtown Lawton. The chapter's title was called "Peyote Road," it was basically a story about Richard Schultes's first forray into ethnobotony and it took place right here in western Oklahoma. It obviously involved peyote and his experiences with some members of the Kiowa tribe back in the late 1920's. If you want to know more about it, read the book, because that's not where I'm going with this.
There was a short passage about General Sheridan and how he basically pushed for the genocide of the Native Americans. He is quoted as making statements like, "the only good Indians I ever saw were dead," and is known for pushing for the eradication of the Bison in order to hit the Native Americans where they could be impacted the greatest....their food and leather supplies. I immediately realised this must have been the man that the street in downtown Lawton was named for; I was later able to confirm this notion, much to my dissaproval. I mean, are you kidding? Disregarding his pre-Oklahoma Civil War affairs, naming a main street in our city after a man who actually carried these opinions about other human beings makes me a little uncomfortable; I have to remind myself that those were different times.

What's really fascinating to me, and also the reason I named this post "Coming Full Circle," is sitting at the corner of Cache and Sheridan. It is a statue of a Native American man! Talk about making Sheridan roll over in his grave! I don't know who the artist is, or who made the descision to put this in the corner of their parking lot, but horray for you! It looks as though there is still a little work to be done, judging by the straps that are stabililizing it, but that's not important.
To me it's a symbol of change, hopefully for the city but also for me personally. To me it's about finally realising that we are all Native Americans in a way. No matter how little or how much native blood runs through your veins, most likely it's there nonetheless. It's about realising that I have blood of people from all the corners of the world coursing through my veins, some I know about, many I don't. It's about realising that through my everyday experiences, if I can remeber that one idea, then I see the world in a full circle; it's a complete and whole world. I'm not just a man of the US, I'm a man of the world, and everyday I should live to make this world better for everyone.

It's just something to think about. Stay tuned; I have a great new story to share about a new partner for the Oklahoma IBA program and a new chapter for me.