Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wonderful World of Christmas Bird Counts

This past week started the fun and exciting Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Christmas Bird Counts, the counts were started on Christmas Day in 1900. Prior to this time, people participated in side hunts in which hunters chose sides and whichever team brought back more birds and mammals won. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, suggested that people participate in a Christmas Bird Census. Thus, the Christmas Bird Counts were born. The counts were conducted in only 27 locations in the first year, but the count has grown to be conducted in over 1,800 locations around the world! Participants cover a 15 mile diameter circle counting all of the individual birds that they can possibly find.

I have been involved with CBCs for almost as long as I have been birding. Some of my earliest birding memories come from the Hamilton County CBC in central Indiana. The compiler was actually the leader of the first bird hike my mom ever went on, and it wasn't long before he had all of us out participating in the count. It has become one of the birding events that I look most forward to each year. One of my favorite things about the CBCs is that you can participate in multiple counts without even having to travel very far from your home. I regularly participate in three or four counts but could easily do more than five if I had more time.

On December 14th, the first day that counts could officially begin, I travelled to Linton, Indiana to participate in the Goose Pond CBC. My designated area needed a lot of additional coverage, so I recruited a big group of birders to help out.  This group included two young birders that are involved with the Indiana Young Birders Club and Chad Williams of Birding! A Growing Obsession! All of our days started off a little slow in our units, but both of the young birders picked up a few lifers. The best bird in my unit was a single Wilson's Snipe that we accidentally flushed while walking on the dike.

After meeting up with all of the other participants for lunch and tallying the morning results (we had 102 species), we headed out to hunt down some of the missing species. While looking around Main Pool West, I got a call from a friend asking us to come over and confirm his group's sighting of some Brewer's Blackbirds. We hurried over and found at least three Brewer's with tons of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Rusties. Overall we had a great day, and it looks like the count ended up with 107 species and will most likely be the highest count in the state!

Rusty Blackbird
Over the weekend, I participated in another count on the east side of Indianapolis, but this count was completely different for me. For the second year in a row, a class was offered for Boy Scouts to earn a birding merit badge. We had 25 boys sign up and another 60 on a waiting list! Everyone had a great time and successfully earned their badge. We had 23 species with the scouts, and the count overall had a total of 50 species by lunch.

Where will you be participating in CBCs this year?

-Rob

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