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It's a bird, it's a plane ... no, it's a bird

PERU - You know spring is truly here when birds begin to return to the area. However, you may be surprised at the number of birds that are returning.

This Sunday, March 29, the Northern New York Audubon Society is looking to be your guide to the birds of the North Country.

The group will meet at the parking lot of AuSable Point Campground at 8:30 a.m., and travel with troop leader Melanie McCormack toward the AuSable Marsh where they will study and learn about various birds.

"People are drawn to birds because they can be colorful and charismatic, which is why so many people have birdfeeders outside their home," explained McCormack, who is also a NNYAS board member.

"Most people are familiar with 10 to 20 species of birds that visit their feeder, but would be surprised to learn that over 200 species of birds have been recorded in the Champlain Valley," she added.

McCormack said she first became interested in birds when she took an ornithology course at the University of Rhode Island.

"I never thought that I was actually going to be interested in birds until I took the class," she said, "and the first day I was just, 'Wow, I never knew there was this many birds in the world.'"

Ever since, McCormack has been interested in birds as well as bird conservation.

"Once you get into it, you start getting into the conservation aspect as well," she said.

McCormack feels bird conservation is important because birds are an "excellent indicator of the health of our environment." They often respond to environmental changes and many species have shifted their ranges north because of global warming.

"Birds such as the cardinal were not common in the Champlain Valley until the past decade," explained McCormack, "as they used to be found only south of the Adirondacks."

If interested in the bird hike, McCormack said it's a great opportunity for adults as well as children.

"That's one thing we really want to start doing, is reaching out to kids ... Kids love nature," she said. "Birdwatching is an enjoyable activity and with people spending so much time in cities and buildings, it is more important than ever to connect to the natural world."

McCormack suggested people who participate bring their own binoculars, but spotting scopes will be available. To register, contact McCormack by calling 312-6123 or e-mailing her at mruddyduck@aol.com.

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