Christmas Bird Count
Header Image: Sandhill Cranes
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.
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!