The room bubbled over with good feeling and good fellowship. “How was your day?” “Did you have the same territory as last year?” “How many species?” “How did that compare with last year?” “Hmm. A miss. Did anyone get that one this year?” We talked through mouthfuls of baked ziti, courtesy of Seth’s mom, until our compiler, Ed Johnson, called us to order to do what we came to do. That is to add up what we had counted all day.
It was the evening wrap-up of the 100th anniversary of the Staten Island Christmas Bird Count. You would have never guessed that we had been outside on a cold day since the pre-dawn. Nobody seemed tired. Everyone talked about the day’s highlights. We reveled in the company of fellow birders. We wondered what this year’s misses and increases and decreases might mean. We talked about the legends who preceded us, like Ludlow Griscom, who did one of the very first Staten Island counts, and whose notes reside in the Staten Island Museum of Arts and Sciences.
My comrades for the day were the same guys from previous counts -- Charlie Fallon (who marked his 46th CBC this year), his son Jeff, and Scotty Jenkins. Charlie’s and Scotty’s names were the ones I used to read in the newspaper when I first moved to the Island in 1976. Now, everyone dotes on the young superstars who have elevated Island birding to a new leveI. But I love being afield with the old bulls. These guys have seen it all and a day with them has a more relaxed rythm. For me the bird of the day was a Lesser Black-backed Gull because I picked it out of a group of Greater Black-backs. Our territory included a good part of Staten Island’s south shore which means that we spent a good part of our day on the beach.
Present at the wrap-up were all the Island’s best birders and one or two novices. Also present was Ed Johnson’s son, Zach, who has been doing this since he was 8. At 13, Zach is already a very good birder.
The CBC is the oldest database on bird populations anywhere, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because it is a ritual, and a ritual is something you just do. I do it to show my bona fides to my fellow birders and to affirm my connection to nature despite the fact that I live in and love New York City. I do it to affirm that there is more to me than New York City. (By the way, many birding legends were city people. Theodore Roosevelt. Frank Chapman. Ludlow Griscom. George Bird Grinnell. John James Audubon.) I do it to affirm my kinship to this tribe of watchers who cannot think of anything better to do on a frigid icy day than to count birds.
See you next year.