Birding In The Winter
The idea of a national bird count dates back to the late 1800s when individuals would participate in a holiday tradition called the Christmas “Side Hunt.” People would pick sides and go out with their fire arms and bag as many feathered and furred animals as possible. Whoever collected the most would be the winner.
In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed that a “Christmas Bird Census” should replace the traditional hunt. Mr. Chapman was one of the early officers of the Audubon Society, leading to the CBC becoming associated with the Audubon Society. The first Audubon CBC was held on Christmas day 1900 with 27 birders conducting 25 separate counts with a total of 90 bird species counted in Canada and the United states. This year the Audubon CBC will be conducting its 114th count.
THE COUNT IN WARREN
The Warren County Christmas Bird Count (CBC) will be holding its 71st count on Saturday, Dec. 14. This is one of the more than 2,300 Audubon Christmas Bird Counts that are conducted each year during the period from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. In 1939, local resident and avid birder Harris Johnson, decided to start a CBC in Warren County.
That year a total of 155 birds were counted representing 18 different species. Until 1960 there were only a few counters. During the ’60s, the number of counters grew to a dozen or more counting several hundred birds with up to about 25 species. That growth has continued since then resulting in an average of 45 birders counting more than 7,400 birds representing 62 species. Long-time local birders Ted Grisez, Bill Highhouse, Jim King, Chuck Neel, Bill Hill, Chase Putnam, Bob Hampson and Tom Hampson played significant roles in helping Harris Johnson grow the count to what it is today.
The significance of the CBC is that it provides data collected over the past 113 years to researchers, biologists and other interested parties. The data helps identify the health of bird populations over a long period of time in North America. The Warren CBC database shows that the first Bald Eagle was not seen locally during the count period until 1979. Regular CBC sightings started in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s with an average of three eagles being counted. Since then, the average over the past 10 years has increased to 16 eagles with a maximum of 28 being counted in 2005.
Birds are counted in a 15-mile-diameter circle that is centered at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Market Street. The circle is divided into nine sections with a leader for each. Count parties are assigned to the various sections with experienced birders in every party.
At the end of the day a tureen dinner is held with the count being compiled afterwards. It is an enjoyable way to end the count and have some fun to see what sections get the most birds or the most unusual birds. Anyone who would like to spend some time helping with the count, regardless of bird watching experience, is welcome to participate. Interested individuals should contact either Don Watts, count coordinator, at 723-9125, or Mike Toole, Count Compiler, at 723-4714.
THE COUNT IN JAMESTOWN
The 114th Christmas Bird Count in Jamestown is coming up on Dec. 15. Our counts for the Jamestown area, available on the National Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count web page, date back to 1946. From this data one can actually track changing populations of different species of birds in our immediate area.
Did you know the first sightings of a Canada Goose on the Christmas Bird Count were 1960-61 and it was not seen regularly until 1976? The Wild Turkey, which is so abundant today, was not seen until 1969 and the first Merlin was not seen until 2006. Evening Grosbeaks, once abundant, have not been seen since 1998. Ring-necked Pheasants are declining and Red-tailed Hawks are rising in populations.
Many factors as to why these trends are occurring have been postulated. Reforestation, global warming, pesticide use, management of breeding habitat, guide wires on cell towers, wind mills and even windows on buildings have been incriminated as causes for these variations of populations. The Christmas Bird Count is the only standardized bird count throughout the world. All the count areas are the same size, done in the same circle each year and always between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. The data is used widely by many groups and is valuable because it has been going on for over a century.
We invite you to participate in this data collection. It can be fun and challenging. Usually each year we have the same 20 hearty souls who love the challenge. For instance, on one CBC we had 1 foot of snow fall throughout the night and during the day the snow was blowing so much that we could hardly see beyond the hood of the car. By noon, we had only seen a dozen birds, let alone species, yet we hung in there. In the afternoon the sun came out as well as all the birds. By the end of the count day each group had a different variety of species and we had one of the higher species counts ever.
You never know what it is going to be like. It could be 10 degrees below zero or 50 degrees above. So be prepared and dress for the occasion. Each count has something special, whether it’s seeing a male Long-tailed Duck in the early morning light or a close up of a dark phase Rough-legged Hawk. The bird count is like hunting except you only use a pair of binoculars and a camera. Are you up to the challenge? If so call Bob Sundell at 484-2197 or Bill Seleen at 386-3209 or email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warren section written by Don Watts and Mike Toole. Jamestown section written by Bill Seleen.
Audubon is also a great place for winter birds. The trails are open dawn to dusk. Call for winter hours 569-2345 or visit our website, jamestownaudubon.org.