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Hooded Mergansers

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Bird Count

For anyone that's interested, the very first Christmas Bird Count was in December, 1900.  Frank Chapman thought that it would be better to count birds on Christmas day rather than shoot them...  so he, and 26 of his Audubon Society friends went out on Christmas Day - everywhere from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California - and conducted a survey of the birds in those areas.  The first Christmas Bird Count netted 90 different species.

Technology (and no doubt interest) grew and in the late 1950's nationwide standards were implemented....  and in the 1995-96 bird count over 45,000 people participated in this annual event.

Now, with GPS in use, circles 15 miles in circumference are checked for distribution and population of birds.

This year, folks all over North America will be out working the Christmas Bird Count from December 14, 2012 through January 5 2013.

Bill & I last participated in the count in December, 2009.  We were volunteering at Sevilleta NWR, which is located on I 25, south of Albuquerque, NM.  Since that refuge is comprised of 230,000 acres, the bird count was scheduled for 2 days...  December 14 and 15.

A group of expert birders would arrive from the ABQ area....  we'd have a briefing and head out at a scheduled time.  Everything was very exact.  Most of these guys (and nearly all of them were male) had done the bird count here in the past.  In fact, most of them had quite a schedule of places to do bird counts in the ABQ area before the ending date in January.

On Day One, Bill & I were assigned to take this guy around to all the "hot spots" in our circle.  

We were on the west side of the refuge....  and there is quite a diversity in habitats here.  In fact, the Sonora and Chihuahan deserts kind of meet here on the refuge...  there are actually 4 different biomes  converging in this area.  So the diversity in wildlife...  and birds...  can be quite interesting.


The view from up on the mesa is fantastic.  You'll see Townsend 's solitaires as well as Western Bluebirds up here.  
And down on the desert floor you might see a cactus wren...
Or if not...  maybe a cactus wren's nest.

But our job was to count birds...  real birds...  not where they lived or where they might be.
Probably one reason I'm a chauffeur instead of one of those "on the money" birders is because I get easily distracted.  I'd be checking out this old adobe house for swallows instead of listening for the bird songs I'm supposed to count.

After all, you only count what you can definitely identify...
Whether that be by sight or by sound....

Day two of the count...
There are teams of birders...  each with their map with the big circle defining where they should check out.
I'm to go with Dennis today.  He's the Deputy Project Leader at the refuge.  He's also an expert birder.
We head to our "circle" at the appointed time.
The scenery if fantastic...
This area has been designated as a "wilderness" area.  Probably by now (3 years later) no motorized vehicles are permitted here.  Our section included some areas that were not on the refuge....  we even checked out the backyard of a house in a small neighborhood.
Mostly there I remember counting the Eurasion Collared-dove...  
which is an introduced bird from Europe.

We went through arroyos and washes and places I'd probably never have the nerve to drive by myself.  But birding was very slow that day.

We did see a few...
Red-tail hawks
There are just some places you can count on seeing these guys if you're out on almost any day.

Bill worked with a team on the second day...  out in the grass-land type desert.  At one point they all fanned out and walked like a moving fence through the area...  
trying to flush out whatever was there.
Bill said he saw a meadowlark...
Now..  this group of men are experts...
They wanted to know whether it was adult or juvenile (never mind whether it was western or eastern)...  and various other info.   
These are the kind of folks who drive down a road and casually say...
"a 1st year juvenile male with immature markings and possibly a deformed claw on the right foot"
Bill & I just marvel at this kind of expertise...
But...
Truth is...
Neither of us will ever achieve that level of knowledge because we just don't take it that seriously.

Anyway...
We were with a group of expert birders on that count.
One young man (early 20's?) had been birding with his grandmother since he was 6 years old.
That kid was GOOD!
He had the area down by the Rio Grande where the robins were in abundance that year.  He casually mentioned the 250 robins he'd counted....
How many blackbirds do you count here?
Yeah, right!
If I remember correctly they were red-wing blackbirds...  but...
how many?  I don't know....

As I've said, I get sidetracked.....  we often see pronghorn in the desert here.  Herds numbering in the 30's... 40's... even more....  running at top speed through the desert.

This refuge is only about 50 miles or so north of the White Sands Proving Grounds.  In the 1950's the gov't brought in some exotic species for recreational hunting...
As is the case with introduced species, they tend to escape and multiply...
This Oryx is an example of an invasive species that is taking over land from native critters.  I won't go into the politics involved in eradicating these guys, but hopefully the pronghorn will prevail.

Our bird count didn't produce high numbers that year...  the guys who surveyed along the river did better than those of us in the desert and on the mesas.



I do have to show you this unusual "bird"...
Bill and I came to call this a "mother hen with her chicks"....
Do you see that hose hanging off that airplane? (off the wing on the right)
The airplane and those 2 helicopters are practicing fueling up in mid-air....
Yes...  those helicopters are refueling right in the air.
Amazing!

Is it any wonder that I get so distracted so easily?
Another view of Sevilleta NWR

We won't be participating in the Christmas Bird Count this year...
Maybe sometime in the future we will again...

I guess the most we'll be doing is feeding the birds where we're at here outside of Ft Worth and appreciating the birds that come to our feeders.

But it's a great program...  if you get a chance, you'd be a welcome addition....  even if all you do is drive someone to an area that you're familiar with and they aren't.

There's a need for everyone.

That's all For Today...


7 comments:

  1. I hear them talking about the Christmas Bird Count here, I don't think I will attend, not near enough knowledge to name the birds. I would just tag along if they would put up with me, but it may be my day to work in the V.C.

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  2. You've convinced me that I am no bird cou...ooh shiny!

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  3. used to participate in them in Texas back in the mid 80's but found it too much like work...

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  4. If I'm not under the knife, I'll be participating in the CBC here at Okefenokee in a couple of weeks. :)

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  5. I've never participated in a bird count either. I don't like going birding with groups, and just hubby and I go out together to hunt birds with the camera.

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  6. I'm like you, I would probably be distracted by all the flora and fauna, the rocks and clouds. Much as I enjoy the birds, there is just too much stuff of interest to confine my focus on them. Sometimes I get really envious of the life you lead with all the travel and wildlife adventures. I hope you know what a charmed life you lead (recent surgery excepted)! Hope you're feeling better.

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  7. Love that mother hen and her chicks!! I would be too distracted as well. I love birds but I like to see the big picture. I would soon get distracted by all the other things to see.

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