Hobby becomes life mission for nature artist

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- Hardly a week goes by that there isn't major news about a new or growing threat to nature and the environment. Often the threat involves birds and their ecosystem. Our feathered friends have a real champion in this week's FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.

It's a big thrill for Marky Mutchler to make an exciting discovery in nature. And Marky makes them all over the place, like in a small tree along the busy road leading up to Liberty North High School where she's a sophomore. Marky showed Missouri Master Naturalist Linda Williams the tiny nest where she recently spied a gorgeous little bird called a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and its family.

"Anywhere I go I'm always in 'birder mode' even when I'm not trying to," said Marky. "So even at school when I walk to and from classes during passing period, it's like, 'Oh, there's an Upland Sandpiper.'"

Marky's personally observed almost 400 different bird species in North America, knows their calls and can instantly rattle off facts about their habits and habitat. Being a birder and naturalist consumes her life. It's different, she says, than just bird-watching.

"The birders are supposedly the more intense birders who go out to the lakes when it's negative 10 degrees out or something looking for owls and ducks," said Marky with a big smile. "I associate myself as a birder. I can put up with those cold temperatures and wind or even really hot weather."

As this hobby has become her passion, Marky's also become a talented nature artist, sketching and painting birds, butterflies and other creatures. Amazingly, she is self-taught.

"You understand proportions," said Marky. "You know that, like, how long the neck of a heron is when you draw it. You know what it should look like after observing it for so long."

Marky's extraordinary skill and expertise as a birder and naturalist along with her rare talent as a wildlife artist are really opening eyes.

"I consider her as this fun, cool, talented, smart kid that I get to go outdoors and play with," said Linda Williams.

As Marky's birding and natural history mentor, Williams encouraged the Missouri Conservation Department to put her art on display for a two month exhibit at the Anita Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City. Visitors got to see Marky's award-winners, including the nighthawk that earned her first place in the youth division of the American Birders Association Bird of the Year Art Contest last year. And Marky addressed seasoned birders and naturalists there, impressing them with her uncanny knowledge and deep devotion.

"For one, she's only 15 years old," said Williams. "And it's very encouraging to see that. And she can be an example to other kids. And it's just a phenomenal thing to have a kid like that with so much talent and to share that with the rest of the world."

"I just love being able to describe information and bring awareness to different things, especially conservation of habitat, like prairies declining," said Marky. "All habitat is declining actually because of technological advances. I just think it's really great to be able to spread this awareness and bring knowledge to people who otherwise wouldn't know any of this."

Preserving nature, safeguarding wildlife and habitat and advancing conservation. That's Marky's future -- as she protects ours.

Marky's art has been on display at the Missouri Conservation Department's Anita Gorman Discovery Center since the first of August. You can still see it through the end of September. The center is at 4750 Troost in Kansas City.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.