Christmas Bird Count

Header Image: Sandhill Cranes

Hoo-H-Hoo-Hoo-Hoo. Hoo-H-Hoo-Hoo-Hoo.

Softer than one would expect for a relatively large bird. Distant. Distinct.

“Great Horned Owl!”, Gini exclaimed in the darkness. It was now about an hour-and-a-half before sunrise and this was our fourth stop in an attempt to hear nocturnal birds. A bit later, a Barred Owl couple called to each other. The highlight of our pre-dawn foray occurred at a boat ramp. “Whip-whip-whip.” Whoosh! An Eastern Whip-Poor-Will almost took my hat off as it coursed along the dirt road scooping up insects before sunup and its bedtime.

“This is fun.” (Gini has mastered the art of understatement.)

As the sky lightened, our surroundings became increasingly noisier, even by my standards. Northern Mockingbirds, Mourning Dove, Common Gallinules and Northern Cardinals were singing, calling and gabbling from all sides.

Just prior to the turn of the 20th century, it was popular in some areas of North America at Christmas and New Year’s to venture afield with dog and gun and see who among family and neighbors could amass the largest number of carcasses, primarily those of birds. Conservation was barely a concept at this time.

An ornithologist by the name of Frank Chapman got it into his head that perhaps this annual contest could be performed just as well by counting how many birds were in an area and writing the number and species on paper instead of hauling their lifeless bodies back to the kitchen table. Birds have been grateful ever since.

The first somewhat organized Christmas Bird Count was on Christmas day in 1900, conducted by 27 birders from Ontario to California. They tallied 90 species for the day.

“Modern” Christmas Bird Counts now involve thousands of birders using the latest in technology to instantly report the results of their efforts to local compilers who combine all the data for forwarding to a national center where the information is consolidated and verified. Results of this annual census effort is used by scientists, researchers and wildlife managers to help understand fluctuations in bird populations and how best to help our avian friends.

Gini and I spent about 12 hours in our assigned area on December 21st and I joined another birder on January 2nd for a count in a nearby area. We did not find any rare birds nor did we break any records on numbers of birds observed. We did have a great time and perhaps contributed in some small way to increasing the base of knowledge in an effort to improve our planet.

Good news! We saw almost 70 different species of birds!

Better news! I am not going to post that many images for you to wade through!

A few pictures follow to give you a sense of what we encountered.

Pine Warbler
Wood Duck
Eastern Bluebird
House Wren
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Carolina Chickadee
Downy Woodpecker
Palm Warbler
Hermit Thrush
Carolina Wren
White-eyed Vireo
Black-and-White Warbler
Blue-headed Vireo
American Goldfinch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-throated Warbler
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Cattle Egret
Eastern Meadowlark
American Kestrel

We had a terrific day, saw a lot of birds and had no problem falling asleep at night. If you live in an area that conducts an annual Christmas Bird Count, consider joining in the fun next year. Contact a local Audubon bird club and they will be happy to have you. All experience levels are very welcome!

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

23 Comments on “Christmas Bird Count

  1. Hello Wally and Gini. It was good to read of your 12 hour stints in the field. I hope your trunk was suitably filled with 12 hours’ worth of sticky buns and gallons of coffee.

    The first day of January sees a similar effort over here. And continues all year because the ‘list’ is very important to many birders. I’m not sure I am at 70 for the year yet but too worried as I know I will get there by December. Despite your suggestion of not showing many photos of your Christmas trips I’m seeing a lot of rather nice, colourful birds.

    Such a shame that we have people in 2021 who still think that the practices of 1900 are acceptable.

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    • We adhered to the official rules for not-so-serious bird-watchers. Rule #1 states: “Buns before bins.” Thus we are assured the important kit goes into the vehicle before items of secondary importance.

      Coffee? Why would anyone ever go afield without coffee?

      Think how many sturdy tripods could be forged from all the melted-down firearms of the world.

      A couple of cold fronts seems to have stirred the birds into action the past few days. No rest for the bleary-eyed.

      Like

  2. Thank you for sharing so many lovely photos. 70 species on a December day is very impressive, especially to someone who lives and birds in the arid and drought-stricken West. And I’m just as impressed by your 12 hours of non-stop birding. Kudos!

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  3. What an exciting event! You take amazing photos and I always learn a few new birds that I see around here or at least…I HOPE TO! We are still getting out often and it’s always different from day to day. We’ve loved seeing the big flocks of Sandhill Cranes everywhere right now. Enjoy your weekend! Thanks for sharing!

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    • You’re very kind, Diane.

      It was a fun day. We’re with you about how thrilling the migrating flocks of cranes are to see!

      Our weekend is great! Hope yours is, too.

      Like

  4. Like your “ShoreAcres” commenter, I also tried to identify the birds in your photos without looking at the captions. I got about 60% correct… which means I need to go out more 🙂 Thanks for sharing the bounty of your counts, and the beauty of your outings!

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    • Thank you, Sam!

      Getting out more is always a good plan! Whether we can identify wildlife or not, encountering Nature is good for our soul.

      If you haven’t visited the wonderful blogs of https://shoreacres.wordpress.com, I highly recommend her fabulous writing. (Two blogs: The Task At Hand and Lagniappe.)

      Have a great day!

      Like

  5. Let me echo your words to Richard, Wally. The enjoyment of the moment is what counts. I have been out and about in nature all my life, much of it long before the days of ubiquitous cameras and sound recorders, and my enjoyment was not impaired one iota. My first memory of finding a fox playing with its kits as the sun went down one day is as vivid now as the day it happened. I don’t need a picture to keep it alive. Having said all of that, great set of images here! And congratulations on a decent CBC total.

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  6. You did have a wonderful day, Wally – great photos as usual!

    You’ve made me think again about doing this one year. I’ve always thought my limited birding knowledge would be less than helpful.

    Anyway – have a great week.
    Ed

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    • You would always be welcome in any group, Ed. Typically, less experienced folks are teamed with more experienced ones. And when they see the photos on your blog and Flickr- they will scramble to get you!

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  7. What a wonderful way to enjoy a warm Christmas day! An absolutely admirable effort, Wally. Unlike you, I have not yet mastered the art of simultaneously photographing AND recording, considering myself to be average at the first, severely lacking in the second and totally useless at both combined. This is a realisation that I have recently come to as I have attempted to collate my annual records to present to our various County Recorders. I must try to do better this year.

    Take good care and stay safe – – – Richard

    Like

    • Thank you very much, Richard.

      I know Lindsay reminds you on a daily basis that you are perfect, however, I am sad to inform you that you have committed an error. (Do not fear. I shall not alert the media.)

      As long as I have been at the twin hobbies of bird-watching and photography, I have only managed to become a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Several years ago, I went through a period of serious introspection about chucking both bins and camera. I realized I had been concentrating on the wrong goals. Competition can consume one’s soul. Searching for beauty in one’s life, on the other hand – well, that is infinitely rewarding.

      Strive to do better only if YOU want to. It won’t matter to the Little Owls whether you photograph them or tick them off on a list. It shall matter only that you can say “Today I saw a Little Owl.” And what, my friend, could any of us want more than that?

      The New Year has me waxing philosophical! More coffee ….

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  8. Well that was 2 fun days out you had Wally, one being our lovely “understated speaking” Gini. What a selection you have shown us today and I could not pick a favourite and am glad you did give us that challenge. Did I wish you a HAPPYY NEW YEAR to you both? Age is creeping up and sometimes I forget these things!!! HAve a great week ahead.

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    • Good Morning, Margaret!

      We really did have a great time searching for birds.

      The nice thing about two “experienced citizens” communicating is that you may forget if you told me something but I am just as likely to have forgotten whether you did! 🙂

      So – Happy New Year – again perhaps!

      Like

    • Happy Tuesday, EC!

      The fun of hunting birds (or any wild game) with a camera is the same as hunting with a gun. It’s the end result that is somewhat different. For me, hanging a photograph on the wall is far more satisfying than hanging a carcass on the wall. Not to mention the fact that if I choose, I can go “shoot” the same subject again and again with a camera!

      Try to stay cool. We’ll keep the sunshine to ourselves for awhile.

      Like

  9. I had a little fun with this post. Before I looked at the names of the birds in your photos, I tried to identify them myself. I knew 13, and either didn’t know or got the identification wrong of 8: the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Yellow Throated Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Pine Warbler (thought it was a Goldfinch), Hermit Thrush (thought it was a Brown Thrasher), and the House Wren.

    I know we have most of these in Texas, so the more time I spend in the woods and such, the more I may find. A friend in Austin who has a pond and garden sees many of them at some point in the year. What a great collection, and what great days you must have had gathering it. The history was interesting, too. I knew about the annual count, of course, but I’d not realized it began over a century ago.

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    • You did well!

      It’s just like anything in life. The more we do a thing, the more accomplished we become. Theoretically.

      The main point for us is, are we having fun? If not, what’s the point? We’re blessed that for over 50 years we find fun in all that we do together.

      Like

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