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Spotting birds

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BIRD SPOTTING: John Velasquez, vice president of the Mississinewa Audubon Club of Marion and Grant County, looks through his binoculars at a bird in Matter Park.
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PERCHED HIGH: A red-tailed hawk perches atop a light pole at Matter Park on Saturday morning. The bird was spotted during a nature walk led by the Mississinewa Audubon Club of Marion and Grant County.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Bundled up for the cold, members of the Mississinewa Audubon Club of Marion and Grant County took to Matter Park on Saturday morning to catch sight of a few of the park’s local inhabitants.

The club, founded in 1956, made the walk a monthly tradition in 2016 as an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project. The walks serve as a way for local nature enthusiasts to join together and look for not only birds but whatever natural critters happen to catch their keen eyes.

President of the club, April Raver, joined the club a few years ago after a photography hobby led to an enthusiasm for wildlife.

“I used to shoot a lot of photography, and I started seeing all of these cool birds. I wondered what they were,” Raver said. “I didn’t realize there were so many different birds species out here.”

The club has served as a great way for Raver to learn more about bird species. Now, she keeps track of how many birds she sees each year.

According to Raver, in Grant County members of the club often see cardinals, blue jays, geese, mallards, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

“Last summer we had some red-headed woodpeckers nesting in the park,” Raver said. “It was exciting to see those here in the park.”

According to Raver, more than 100 species of birds have been spotted in the park, and more than 200 species have been spotted in Grant County.

According to John Velasquez, vice president of the club, the group serves as a great tool for conservation education.

“(I wanted) to be with a group of people in Marion who enjoyed nature, conservation education and monthly programs,” Velasquez said.

Velasquez says it’s important for community members to come together in order to know what the main issues at hand are, such as problems impacting wildlife and how to fight climate change using renewable energy.

Velasquez also enjoys the camaraderie and exploring new areas throughout the state.

“We take a lot of field trips,” he said. “There are some areas that I’ve never explored, so I’ll take my family. It’s nice to get together every now and then and get out of the city and back into the woods for a little bit.”

Velasquez, who used to live in Marion, moved away and traded city life for the country life, buying 10 acres of land in Hartford City.

“It was just too restrictive (living in Marion),” he said. “(Now) I can sit outdoors and (I’m content) whether it’s winter, spring or summer. I just like being outside.”

Among the dozen and a half attendees bundled up for the Matter Park adventure, about half were children.

Part of the club’s missions statement is to teach younger generations about wildlife and nature. For Raver, the kids bring a whole new perspective to the nature walks and field trips.

“They’ll stop and see a leaf on the ground or a woolly worm and they’ll pick it up and wonder what it is,” she said. “It’s stuff that we adults just don’t see, so they teach us just as much as we teach them when we’re out here.”

The morning walks through Matter Park take place at 9 a.m. on the second Saturday of every month throughout the year.

The club also takes field trips once a month to different locations around the state. The next trip is on March 30, where the club will visit the Kokomo Reservoir to walk the Peshewa Nature Trail in an attempt to see warblers.

The club also meets the third Tuesday of every month at 6:15 p.m. at the Marion Public Library in meeting room B, which the public is welcome to attend.