Sunday, December 9, 2012

'Tis the Season to go Birding

Happy Hanukkah to any Jewish readers out there! : ) I'm sure other people are waiting breathlessly for Christmas, or Kwanzaa... Whatever you celebrate, I hope you have a good one.

You shouldn't be surprised when I tell you that there are lots of opportunities for you to go birding this winter season! One of the coolest birding events of the year is just around the corner: the Christmas Bird Count.

The Christmas Bird Count, or CBC for short, is an event led by the National Audubon Society where birders go out and count all of the birds they can see in one day. It started because huntsmen used to compete to see how many birds they could shoot down on Christmas Day. In 1900, a conservationist got 26 buddies together to form a counter movement: how many birds could they see on Christmas Day? This movement really caught on, and now-a-days tens of thousands of birders participate in annual CBCs. The data gathered by this "citizen science" is used by researchers to study changes in bird populations. You could be one of those participants!

The way it works is that local Audubon chapters create "count circles" that are 15 miles in diameter. (There's probably a chapter in your city, so try searching this website for the one nearest you. If you want more details about your local CBC, you can try emailing those Audubon Board members.) The chapters then break those circles into areas that are much easier to cover in just one day. Even though the areas are right next to each other, they have very different habitats and weather. This means that in only one count circle, you can see a wide variety of birds. If you want to participate in a CBC, you should be careful to choose an area that you would be comfortable spending the day in. If you recently sprained your ankle, it wouldn't be a good idea to sign up for an area that requires hiking up and down hills.

Let's talk timing! The counts can take place anywhere from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. If you're interested in participating, you should check out this site to find out on which day your nearest Audubon chapter is holding their count. CBCs can take the entire day. Last year, I woke up at 5 and birded until about 6 in the evening. This was fun, but absolutely exhausting. I wouldn't suggest it for beginners. For your first count, I would recommend either doing the morning or the afternoon.
  • Pro for morning: You'll be with the rest of your birding group right from the start, so you don't have to worry about meeting up with them halfway through the day. Plus, birds are most active in the early morning.
  • Con for the morning: Hello, pre-dawn sky. Your alarm clock will probably ring around 5.
  • Pro for afternoon: Sleep in! You'll surely have energy for birding since you had the whole morning to wake up.
  • Cons for afternoon: You have to coordinate a meet-up halfway through the day. This will be possible if you email your area leader or get their phone number, but it could be complicated. Secondly, you'll see birds, but less than the morning group did.
It's up to you. : )

You don't need to be an expert to participate. You do not even need any prior experience with birding. Every pair of eyes is welcome! As long as you can articulate the words "there's a bird over there," you qualify to participate. Taking part in a CBC is a great learning experience. You'll see dozens of bird species, speak with dedicated birders, and spend some time out in nature. I highly encourage any of you who own a pair of binoculars to sign up for your local CBC!

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