The Audubon Christmas Bird Count event has it all—getting out there, a long history of tradition, hands-on learning and citizen science. This year’s event is right around the corner so don’t miss it!
Each year during winter, enthusiastic birders and interested newbies, gather to participate in an event steeped with tradition; in fact, it is over a century old—with this year celebrating the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count!
As impressive as its duration, this event also inspires—it gets people outside—bird watching, counting and recording. Ultimately, this information is compiled with participants throughout the range of the event, in order to record, log and hold in perpetuity the observations of each year. The value of which, serves ornithologists and other data reviewers and researchers, in understanding bird populations and dynamics over a significant amount of time. In fact, this count is one of the longest running counts on record; thus, the data it collects is not just important for today but will help increase our understanding over the long run.
This year’s Christmas Bird Count will happen between the dates of December 14, 2013 and January 5, 2014. Participating in the bird count is free and by utilizing the Audubon website you can easily search for birding groups who are organizing a count in your area. Each group has a key person managing logistics such as defining locations or setting perimeters for making observations and compiling data collection; in addition, each field group will have an experienced birder as the anchor, in order to help in making identifications. It is an extraordinary opportunity to get outside, participate in some fun and engaging citizen science as well as expand your knowledge of bird species—and as a bonus, you might just have a few adventures and make some new friends too.
In fact, that is exactly what happened at my first Christmas Bird Count and it is by far one of my greatest bird count memories to date.
On a snowy Sunday in December 2008, I joined an enthusiastic team of birders, Katy, Ryan and Jeff. We rendezvoused at El Capitan meadow in Yosemite Valley; it was early morning and snow was beginning to fall. We discussed as a team, the logistics of counting birds in a snowstorm while trail finding on old dirt roads, snow covered trails, talus slopes, a creek crossing or two and finishing once again in Yosemite Valley. It was pure excitement for a team who just wanted to get out there, assist, learn and adventure… all at the same time.
Jeff was our expert birder, he could name every bird by sight, silhouette and song. What he needed from us, were our additional 6 pairs of eyes and ears. He could really do the rest—help us identify, as long as we could help look in the directions he wasn’t facing.
I can’t recall the exact number of birds we observed, but it was impressive, even in a snowstorm! I do recall seeing a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Townsend solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) , Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) and many, many more. Though, my favorite that year was definitely the Kinglets—Ruby-crowned (Regulus calendula) and Golden-crowned (Regulus satrapa) Kinglets.
Jeff diligently tried to teach us their calls so we too could discern their songs and chatter. He would do the calls and we would listen astutely as we tried to tease apart the notes, wanting so much to be able to identify the birds by call on our own. It was hard.
I asked Jeff to repeat it over and over and over again, which he did with patience, grace and a great laugh.
By the end, I almost had it!
It’s tough though—see, you try! Follow these links to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and play the bird calls for yourself, see if you can really tell them apart.
We ended our snowy birding adventure with a potluck, joining so many other volunteers who had spent the day observing and counting in other areas. We were cold, tired, hungry and very, very happy.
To this day, I can recall that particular Christmas Bird Count as if it were yesterday. Not only did I learn more about the bird species in my area, I learned how to really see, hear and observe them. I learned what was resident and what was migrating through during winter as well as which species occupied the various habitats along our observation route. Best of all, I made some of the best birding friends and memories anyone could ever ask for.
I hope your Christmas Bird Count experience is just as fabulous—and do tell. I would be interested in hearing about it!
Cool Tools and Great Resources:
Stunning Bird Photography Photo credits: Kirk Keeler
In order of appearance: Ross’ Snow Geese; Bald Eagle, Sierra Foothills; Male Quail.
Christmas Bird Count Group Photo: Shauna Potocky