The very first time I met Mark Woodrey was when he was doing research on the nesting habits of the Swallow-tailed Kite.
I had discovered a nest about halfway between Vancleave and Mississippi 26 on Mississippi 57. I arranged to meet Mark after I got off work about 4:30 that evening. I headed east on Interstate 10 from Gulfport in my accordion-backed Oldsmobile that had been hit on both sides when I exited a McDonald's on U.S. 49 about dusk one evening. A car leaving the Jitney Jungle had not put its headlights on and he hit me and drove me into a Budweiser truck. The truck and I so hard it knocked the pickles off my McDouble. It still drove well, though, and I never looked behind me when I was driving, anyway.
I was impressed with Mark from the start and we quickly became good friends. Even though it was 20 years ago, he was already an expert on birds and I was an empty vessel just wanting to be filled with the knowledge of birds. Mark has the ability to correct someone in error without making them feel stupid. My stupid diploma proudly hangs in my bathroom. It was given to me by my Dad when I was 19 years old and we were working in the backyard.
I was pulling nails from some two by fours with a huge crowbar. My dad was holding the two by four as I put pressure against a large nail that was driven halfway into the wood. Suddenly the head of the nail popped off and the crow bar caught me right between the eyes with enough force to knock out a wildebeast. I immediate saw stars and tears came to my eyes. My dad compassionately said, "Woowee! That will feel good when it quits hurting."
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Passion for teaching
Since those many years ago, Mark has followed his passion of teaching and researching birds of different species along the Mississippi Coast.
This year, Mark will once again be offering his field course Coastal Ornithology, May 16-27, through the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Summer Field Trip Program. Mark is one of the few people who are really gifted at teaching. His classes are both informative and entertaining.
The course will take place in the sleepy, but beautiful town of Oceans Springs.
Here's a description:
"This course explores the highly diverse avian habitats found along the Mississippi Gulf Cost, focusing on the study of avian ecology. Class activities include a significant emphasis on the use of both sight and sound as means of field identification. Students will explore barrier islands, nesting grounds, boat the pristine Pascagoula River area and explore local marshes and other unique coastal habitats. Students will be introduced to a variety of ornithology field techniques including bird-banding, call-broadcast surveys and monitoring methodologies."
The Gulf Coast Research Lab's Summer Field Program continues to offer a unique, hands-on field experience. Classes focus on studies of plants and animals in their natural habitats and physical processes in the marine and coastal environments. Courses are designed to provide students with an unrivaled academic experience in a marine lab setting. Classes are small to enhance the experience and allow students to work side by side with experts in the marine field.
In 2016, 14 classes will be offered during three summer terms between May 16 and July 29. Applications for admission are still being accepted in classes that have space. More information about the Coastal Ornithology class and others can be found at gcrl.usm.edu/summerfield/index .php. Questions regarding GCRL Summer Field Program courses can be directed to gcrLsfp@usm.edu.
A walk among the sparrows
I got a firsthand look at Mark's expertise when he led a field trip near the Sandhill Crane refuge some years ago. He had set up mist nets to try to catch at least one Henslow's Sparrow, the bird he was studying at that time. He lined us up in a row and told us to walk slowly and clap softly as we headed toward the mist net. This is without a doubt the best way to get a look at some of our field sparrows because some of them have a bad habit of flying to a certain spot but when they hit the ground they take off running, rotten birds.
We had several to fly into the mist net and Mark carefully and expertly removed them from the net for all of us to get good looks at this beautiful little delicate bird with the olive sided cheek. Just another example of Mark's superb ability to share his passion with others.
J. Morris, has been birding, teaching and writing about birds for 20 years. He is the founder of the Mississippi Coast Band of Birders.