Cheer on the Christmas Bird Counts!

Photo: Georgi Baird

The 113th Audubon Christmas Bird Count started this past Friday and runs through January 5, 2013. We get some awesome data about birds from the CBC, but we know not everyone can participate in a count. Maybe you’ll be at grandma’s while your local group counts. Or perhaps relatives will be visiting and you simply can’t slip away.

No matter why the CBC may elude you, we’ve got another way to participate: Send support to the on-the-ground citizen scientists. Here we profile four CBC circles, one from each flyway. Cheer them on as they tally.

Flyway: Atlantic
Count: Four Holes Swamp
Compiler: Mark Musselman
Talk about diverse: The Four Holes Swamp count has swampland, of course, but it also covers forest, agricultural fields, even a small urban center, says compiler Mark Musselman. “We’re not able to cover the whole circle. A good deal of it is just inaccessible,” he says. “But you get a good snapshot.”

Part of that picture includes loads of grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and winter wrens. It also means learning lessons about the territory—particularly important for a five-year-old count like this: “We had some very good birders and they were just going along the country road, stopping. They were birding the fields” during year one, Musselman says. “A police officer pulled them over and wanted to know what they were doing with binoculars. They had to explain that they were counting birds.”

Now Musselman makes sure to call local law enforcement ahead of time. About 20 people joined him on December 17 to count birds.

Flyway: Mississippi
Count: Cincinnati
Compiler: Jay Stenger
In Cincinnati, nine teams will head out to count birds on December 30 for the 113th Christmas Bird Count. “We’ve got all ages. We’ve got families. One family has three generations that help out on the count,” says Bill Creasey, a naturalist at the Cincinnati Nature Center who has lead a CBC group for 40 years. “Everybody has a good time.”

Part of that includes getting together at the nature center after the count to discuss what they saw. It’s like a game, Creasey says. Everyone reveals their common birds, keeping their rarities close to their chest—until the very end. They’ve seen many cool species, from cardinals (they were once the cardinal capital of the world, Creasey brags) to saw whet owls. Send them good thoughts for their count!

Flyway: Central
Count: Big Fork
Compiler: Dan Casey
Despite 40 participants, max, on Big Fork, this count typically generates one of the highest totals in Montana. “The Big Fork count circle is centered just north of the Swan River of Flathead Lake,” says Dan Casey, compiler since 1986. “We have lots of water, lots of agricultural land, and then we also get into the forest. It’s a really diverse circle.”

During the 2011-12 CBC, Casey’s group tallied 90 species—a record for a Montana count. And they’ve had some great birds, too: a pacific loon, a harlequin duck, a great grey owl. “It’s a time of year when otherwise birders wouldn’t be out generating that amount of data,” Casey says. “It’s always good for birders to show us how the world is really operating.”

The Big Fork count took place this past weekend, on December 15th. Check out how they did!

Flyway: Pacific
Count: San Francisco
Compiler: Dan Murphy
Dan Murphy, a co-compiler for San Francisco since the early 1980s, calls his circle half a count. “It’s about seven miles across,” he says. “Fifty-one percent of our count is on land, leaving 49% on water. We do cover the bay, but we don’t usually count the ocean.” Despite that, Murphy’s group typically tallies some 150 common species and another 75 or so that he calls rare.

Those numbers mean useful data for monitoring bird area populations, he adds. “The first time I lead a group for a count was over in Oakland. I reported two ravens. Ravens were rare at the time. They’ve gone from being almost absent to having over 700 of them last year.” This year, Murphy expects more than 90 participants for his December 27th count. Wish them luck! 


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