Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Bird Count Begins

Yesterday morning at 7:30, the sun barely crept up above the hills at the nature area I was assigned to canvass for my Audubon chapter's annual Christmas Bird Count. Stepping out of the car and zipping up my coat, I immediately tallied four Northern cardinals, two white-breasted nuthatches, an American goldfinch and a bald eagle flying over head. This annual event takes place between December 14 and January 5 this season, and my chapter traditionally holds our count the first Saturday of the official count period.

Temperatures were a little warmer and the windspeeds picked up a little higher than desired yesterday, but throughout our count circle, Audubon members documented 95 species. At the end of the day, we host a tally party potluck with lots of pots of different kinds of chili, sides and a huge dessert table. We project the checklist onto the cinderblock wall of a local church and go through the list, asking each group how many of each bird species they witnessed during the day. Notable missing species this year was wild turkey. No one saw a wild turkey and Lincoln's sparrow numbers were way down this year. I only counted two white-throated sparrows, which is unheard of for a Christmas Bird Count in our area, but the rest of my team picked up an additional 95 of the little guys.

A city-owned nature area with a stream running through it- complete with thickly vegetated streambanks that held the key to our bird numbers- served as the nucleus of my area, 2 North. Unlike some birders, I'm not loyal to one of the 8 given areas; I like to bounce around and visit new places each year while also helping out the groups that don't have a lot of counters. The leader of my group was home with sick children and continually populated my text messages with accounts of only American robins in his yard, bummed that he couldn't get out. He did finally break away in the afternoon and revisited areas that I missed; it's a good thing he did, too, because I got skunked trying to find our area's brown creeper, a traditional species that certainly inhabits these thick bottomland woodlands. He went out and found one.

The highlight of my morning was the song sparrow on the streambank and the 45 Northern cardinals we saw throughout the day. Area 2N witnessed the most abundant cardinals, black-capped chickadees and red-bellied woodpeckers than any of the other areas. While I realize these are common woodland birds, they remain lovely creatures and it was fun to see one of each every time I hoisted my binoculars to my eyes.

I heard reports last night at the tally party that some of Missouri's other count circles are low on observers. If you're interested in helping out with a Christmas Bird Count, visit here to find a circle.

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