For most of my adult life, I have enjoyed watching birds and have kept feeders to attract them. My wife and I have enjoyed backyard birding with our children and now with our grandchildren.
My interest in birds has grown beyond the backyard, and I find myself listening and watching for them anywhere and anytime I go outdoors. The suite of birds seen and heard as you float down an Ozark stream is different from those observed in a farm meadow or a mature forest. The birds around us change with the seasons of the year and even with the time of the day.
Turkey hunting at daybreak affords a connection with nature in all its aspects, and hunters crave this total experience. The photo with this essay is the exciting culmination of such a hunt this past April, but it is the memory of spring mornings shared with my sons that more fully reflects my recollection of the hunt. Standing in the deep woods and listening to the sounds in the minutes before daybreak, one hears birds of the night like whippoorwills and barred owls calling until the sky lightens, and a chorus of different birds signal the start of a new day. I recognize some of the songs, but I cannot identify all of them, and I want to learn more.
Turkey hunters listen for gobblers to call and reveal their location. When that happens, the focus often changes from enjoying the diversity of birds to locating a specific animal. At times, this involves a fast hike through the woods while still alert for sounds and sights around you. The ability to imitate turkey calls adds to the experience through direct communication with the gobbler, and, although your focus is the gobbler, you also see other birds, squirrels and the brightly colored redbud and dogwood trees. There is a sense of delight in just being in such a place.
It’s moments such as the ones I experienced in the woods during this past turkey season that influenced my career choice. Becoming director of the Missouri Department of Conservation opened doors of opportunity that I never dreamed possible! Today, I serve as Board Chairman for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. NABCI began in 1999 and is a partnership for national bird conservation initiatives and for collaborative work in Canada and Mexico as well.
Bird conservation is challenging and complex, in part due to the migratory nature of many bird species. The goal is to use sound science and effective management to ensure populations and habitats of North America’s birds are protected, restored and enhanced through coordinated efforts at the international, national, regional and state levels.
Birds are beautiful, economically important, a priceless part of America’s natural heritage, and critical indicators of the health of the environment upon which we all depend. Like thousands of Missourians, I have the personal desire to learn about and enjoy birds, and, as director of your Conservation Department, I also have a professional commitment to conserve and protect them.
John Hoskins, director
Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler