Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 110th Annual Christmas Bird Count Has Begun!

blue jay bird countFor over 100 years, volunteers have been braving the cold to spend a December day outside counting birds.  It's the longest continually running wildlife-monitoring program in the world. Their data has become an invaluable resource for conservationists wanting to track  bird populations, and an example for other groups looking to conduct "citizen science."

It all began at the turn of the 20th century when Frank Chapman, an officer in the then-new Audubon Society, proposed an alternative to the Christmas "Side Hunt." He was concerned that this tradition of holiday hunting competitions (in which revelers chose sides and sought to shoot more birds and other animals than the other team) was harming bird populations. At Chapman's suggestion, the 1900 Christmas Bird Census took place in 25 locations, with 27 participants.

From that humble beginning, the Christmas Bird Count has expanded to over 2,000 events and 55,000 participants. Each local group picks a date between December 14 and January 5 to do their count, following a specific methodology developed by the Audubon Society. Birders of all levels are welcome; beginning birders are placed in a group with at least one experienced birdwatcher. Counts often culminate in a "tally rally" at the end of the day that involves food and drink with other counters, the modern equivalent of the bragging party that surely accompanied the original "side hunts."

Interested in participating? The Washington, DC, Bird Count will be this Saturday, December 19. Contact Larry Cartwright at prowarbler@verizon.net or Kathy Wilson at the Audubon Naturalist Society, 301-652-9188, to sign up and get your instructions.

Other local counts (and their organizers) include:

Sunday, December 20:
  • Jug Bay (Sam Droege, 301-390-7759, sdroege@usgs.gov)
  • Seneca (Mark England, 240-252-4218, markengland@canamcontractors.com)
  • Port Tobacco (Gwen Brewer, 301-843-3524, glbrewer@comcast.net)
Sunday, December 27:
  • C&O Canal near Whites Ferry in Central Loudon County (Joe Coleman, 540-554-2542)
  • Nokesville (Kim Hosen, 703-499-4954, khosen@pwconserve.org)
Sunday, January 3:
  • Patuxent River (Andy Brown, 410-535-5327, brownaj@co.cal.md.us)
  • Fort Belvoir (MD - Carol Ghebelian, 301-753-6754. VA - Kurt Gaskill, 703-768-2172 or kurtcapt87@verizon.com)
  • Sugarloaf Mountain (Janet Millenson, 301-983-9337, janet@twocrows.com)
For counts elsewhere, see the list on the Audubon website, or check in with a local group -- some seem to have counts that aren't on the main list yet.

Can't make it to one of these events? Stay tuned for the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15!

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.