Peacock

Peacock
Peacock

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Count is On: Are You Counting?

Want to learn more about the birds in your locale?  Want to meet people who will go birdwatching with you?  Want to find great places to visit to find birds?  Want a peek at private properties? Are you visiting in a area that you don't know but want to go birding? Want to give a Christmas present towards the future existence of  birds?  Then this is your time to have it all. Count circles are spread across the country and you can click here and find one near you, or near where you'll be during the count period. And this year, you don't have to pay $5.00 per count to help pay for publishing the data.All this fun is free.

Most of the members of my group along P
 The Christmas count grew from the tradition of gathering up hunting friends and going out and shooting all the birds (and mammals) that came in the gun sights. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition-a "Christmas Bird Census"-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. Twenty-seven people from across the country did 25 counts. From that small beginning, the count has grown with 2,215 counts completed last year by new record 63,227 observers (54,262 in the field and 8965 at feeders). And I'm hoping, with your help, we can get more observers in the field this year. The data gathered helps us learn more about bird behavior and conservation and provides the baseline information for  many scientific studies on birds.

One of pictures to document the glossy ibis - brown eye, blue facial skin
To answer all your questions about what skills you'll need: You need to be able to walk a few to several miles, or be able to sit and watch at a feeder, and you need to be able to tell that an animal is a bird. You also need binoculars. But on most counts, you will be birding with a group of three to twenty people and doing a small section of the count circle. The more people looking, the more birds are found. Each person can look in a different direction so when the group can see in all the compass directions, as well as up and down, very few birds will be able to hide. And the total group knowledge is usually tremendous. So you don't have to be an advanced birder to have fun and be helpful to the effort.

Lingering little green heron
You will learn a lot more about birds than you know now, while doing a very important Citizen Science job.  This data is needed to determine what more we need to do to keep our birds from going extinct and to measure the effects of weather, global warming, loss of habitat, and pollution have on birds. It is the baseline information needed for all sorts of other studies.

One of the many common gallinules we counted
I do at least one Christmas count each year and usually more. When I lived and worked in Houston, I usually spent some holidays there and some traveling. I always added a count or two to my travel plans and have never been disappointed that I did.

Snowy egret, glossy ibis, and white ibis
This year, I'm again in the Houston area so am doing some of my favorite counts. Saturday, I did the Brazos Bend Count. This was the first count I did in Texas way back in 1990 and where I got the black-bellied whistling duck as a lifer. This year was not as exciting, but our group did document an immature glossy ibis, a bird normally found east of this count. And two years ago, I was in the same group when we found the bird here for the first time. Other good finds was a little green heron who apparently couldn't get himself packed up in time to head south, a Wilson's warbler, and a Louisiana waterthrush.  The award for the find for the best bird went to the group that found an American avocet, another bird that should not have been here now.

Louisiana waterthrush - breast shows more cream in other pictures
For those of you who want a little more vicarious experience, check out these videos.  Then consider giving your spirit a much needed break in this hectic time and volunteer as a Citizen Scientist for a day.

I got to go on a dream count within the Sutter Buttes last year while volunteering in California. Click the link to see my story and the species list. And  below is a view we saw late in the very cloudy day. Besides these species, American pippets and least sandpipers were present in the damp field. Also I think we saw a great blue heron here, as well as two pileated woodpeckers.

Can you find and name the seven species?
I'd love to hear about a count you did this year. Comment or direct us to your blog about it.