Holiday Tradition: Christmas Bird Count

If you love being in the great out-of-doors and if you love birding and being with like-minded friends, then the Christmas Bird Count is the perfect wintertime activity for you. This National Audubon Society sponsored event, begun on Christmas Day in 1900, collects data for a study of the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Our local team of a dozen volunteers walked and drove within the 15-mile radius of our assigned area of the count circle in Mathews and Gloucester Counties on Sunday (no hunters!), January 2. The combined information is available on a CBC database on the Audubon website where you can view historical counts, track a species, check maps or make a graph.

Fog and drizzle over the Ware River

Yesterday’s weather forecast was favorable: a high of 57 degrees, morning showers predicted to end when a front pushed through in the afternoon. This seemed to be an improvement over a year ago when 19 degrees and howling winds caused my camera to freeze after the first few shots. However we were disappointed to awake in the wee hours to drizzle and heavy fog on this year’s 110th Christmas Bird Count. Most of our counting takes place over rivers and creeks and marshes where it was difficult to see much at all early in the day.

Fog rolled in the pre-dawn light, then lifted for brief moments, allowing us to count and estimate thousands of birds on the waterways of Gloucester.

Belleville Creek, normally a haven for ducks, geese, kingfisher, woodpeckers

Heavy fog on low lands obscured most of the water and shore.

We hear them. We just can't see them.

Hampered by high tides, volunteers traverse makeshift bridges

A glimmer of hope past the noon hour....

...then early afternoon clearing provided anticipation and good cheer....

..and clear counts on the water...

... only to be dashed with the arrival of the front and heavy rains.

Yet, here we counted numerous small birds seeking protection from the rain just like us!

Late afternoon on Davis Creek

Although afternoon temperatures dropped 10 degrees with gusting winds and intermittent rains all afternoon, we covered much ground in Ware Neck with good results. Drying out that evening while tallying our counts we were satisfied with the final bird census of the day. Despite not seeing some familiar birds like vultures and some songbirds, we were pleased with the variety and number of birds that we reported this season.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

 

When the Going Gets Tough…

Click to enlarge

… the tough definitely get going. Yesterday, as temperatures hovered around 19 or 20 degrees and winds gusts of 15 MPH lashed down narrow beaches, a light crew braved frostbite at dawn for the Christmas Bird Count.  The weather was harsh and inhospitable for man and beast, even dangerous, yet it was an amazing count of birds under these conditions.

Hundreds and hundreds of ducks and geese and swans were counted on the water. Angry white caps on the open water made it time consuming to identify water birds far from shore but the more experienced birders prevailed.  On the shoreline, ice flows like plate tectonics heaved to and fro in the first 50 feet of the rivers.

Inside our 15-mile diameter circle, we found most inland birds hunkered down in protection from the wind.  But eventually they must feed and during those times we counted amazing numbers and varieties of woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, vulture, sparrows, hawks, warblers, robins, cardinals,  bluebirds, blackbirds and so forth.

Although the waxwings have not visited our foster holly, we found them stripping clean Bradford Pears lining a driveway allée.  The homeowner said he would like to replace his many Bradfords that have split time and time again in storms, but the sight of birds feasting on the tiny fruit each winter holds him back.  Seeing the birds feed, I agree with him.  Eventually, he plans to replace the trees with Chanticleer ornamental pear trees that are less likely to split.

Most unusual bird spotted: a rooster.  We did not count him.  What we did not see: our eagles.  Bummer News: My camera froze after 15 photos. Best news: We managed to count all day without frostbite.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester