12/21/2009

The Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas bird count was started in 1900 by the Audubon Society as an alternative to a disturbing tradition of a Christmas bird hunt with the aim of shooting as many birds as possible. Just because they could. The first count involved 27 people. This year the Audubon Society expects more than 50,000 people to take part in counting more than a million birds. The data collected during the count is vital for conservationists, as it provides a picture of the population of birds over time and space for the past 110 years. It helps develop strategies to protect birds and their habitat - and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.
Apart from the scientific benefits, it is a lovely way to spend the day…wandering around a geographically defined area, and counting any bird you see. It means you drive very slowly, with the windows down listening for any birds; you walk quietly, pishing from time to time to draw small birds like nuthatches and chickadees out of the woods towards you to be counted; and you wait with anticipation hoping to see something spectacular and unexpected. Whether you do or not really doesn’t matter, because it’s the Christmas Bird Count,
and that’s what really matters.
This was my fifth year. When I left the house at 8:00 am, it was -19C and the snow crunched underfoot. My section is just a few kms from home, so within minutes I was making the turn onto Church Road and heading west towards the road to Chapeau. Within my section there are four main roads, and a few little lanes. There’s a lot of fields and farms and forest, and I have begun to know them all quite well. This year, as I drove towards the little farming cluster of homes on Lapierre Road, I suddenly remembered that the one large barn is a great resting place for lots of pigeons. Today was no exception. Rock Doves – 50.
And where there are pigeons, there are usually crows – check: American Crow -15.
From Lapierre Road over to Great Plains Road, where there’s a monster pig farming operation, I recalled being caught in a storm of Snowbuntings last year. Amazingly enough – there they were again, almost exactly where they were a year ago!
Snowbuntings – 200, check.
Up and down the roads, quietly and steadily watching. It was so cold that there weren’t very many birds about for most of the morning. Who can blame them? When it’s -19C forget flitting about! Stay warm! But the cold also meant that the sky was exceptionally blue, and there was hoar frost over the land that was the most amazing I’ve ever seen! Jack Frost indeed – he and his frigid friends had spent the night painting with their crystal brushes, and the results were no less than spectacular.
There’s one little side road, near the cemetery where last year I spotted a Bald Eagle. So, off I went. I parked to the side to adjust my boots which were too tight. As I bent over I heard the Ka Ka of a Common Raven, and looked up to see not one, but three drifting overhead -black shiny wedges against cerulean blue. But what was
that following closely behind? Immature Bald Eagle -1. Check!
Amazing -again, same place as last year.
There was magic in the air today.
By the time I was done – tired, hungry, getting chilled to the bone, my numbers were: 10 species, 360 birds. A bit higher than last year in fact. My numbers will be added to all the other counters numbers, and they will be sent to Audubon, and soon the grand totals will be in. Knowing that my 360 birds, my Bald Eagle, my Snowbuntings, will be part of the international tally is a small precious gift, from me, to me.
 I count. It counts.

Learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and the Audubon Society at: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/index.html

4 comments:

Murr Brewster said...

Yay Susan! Thanks for 'splaining it all to me. I've been paddling hard through my Facebook page, which is speckled with birders, and I had finally figured out what a CBC was (EVERYONE was doing it). Who assigns your territory?

Susan said...

CBC also means Canadian Broadcasting Corp in this part of the world, so lots of confusion all 'round. I told someone I was doing the CBC and their look back at me said it all...The sections are assigned by local, registered Field Naturalist Clubs. In our case, the count is a 15 km circle from downtown Pembroke. There are a few other count circles in our area as well, all duly assigned and noted. This is to control/prevent double counting by letting people count wherever they want, adn to make sure as much as a given area is counted, and not just the easiest or most accessible. They're always looking for new volunteers too...feeder watchers are also welcome. Just check with your local Field Naturalist Club.

Mary said...

Susan, this is spectacular. Of course, the birds you counted are impressive but I am in love with your frosty photos. You braved those temps but in return you were able to soak in the beauty.

Eve said...

Sadly for me this is the first CBC that I did not participate in since I started...around 5 years ago! With my new move and not knowing enough people I was unsure of not counting where others had. I am just outside the circle for my area...I used to be right in the middle up north. My new years resolution....by next years count I will have many friends that will call me and say...Let's go count Eve!
Great job Susan, Your photos are stunning!