The Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas bird count was started in 1900 by the Audubon Society as an alternative to a disturbing tradition of a Christmas bird hunt with the aim of shooting as many birds as possible. Just because they could. The first count involved 27 people. This year the Audubon Society expects more than 50,000 people to take part in counting more than a million birds. The data collected during the count is vital for conservationists, as it provides a picture of the population of birds over time and space for the past 110 years. It helps develop strategies to protect birds and their habitat - and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.
Apart from the scientific benefits, it is a lovely way to spend the day…wandering around a geographically defined area, and counting any bird you see. It means you drive very slowly, with the windows down listening for any birds; you walk quietly, pishing from time to time to draw small birds like nuthatches and chickadees out of the woods towards you to be counted; and you wait with anticipation hoping to see something spectacular and unexpected. Whether you do or not really doesn’t matter, because it’s the Christmas Bird Count,
and that’s what really matters.
This was my fifth year. When I left the house at 8:00 am, it was -19C and the snow crunched underfoot. My section is just a few kms from home, so within minutes I was making the turn onto Church Road and heading west towards the road to Chapeau. Within my section there are four main roads, and a few little lanes. There’s a lot of fields and farms and forest, and I have begun to know them all quite well. This year, as I drove towards the little farming cluster of homes on Lapierre Road, I suddenly remembered that the one large barn is a great resting place for lots of pigeons. Today was no exception. Rock Doves – 50.
And where there are pigeons, there are usually crows – check: American Crow -15.
From Lapierre Road over to Great Plains Road, where there’s a monster pig farming operation, I recalled being caught in a storm of Snowbuntings last year. Amazingly enough – there they were again, almost exactly where they were a year ago!
Snowbuntings – 200, check.
Up and down the roads, quietly and steadily watching. It was so cold that there weren’t very many birds about for most of the morning. Who can blame them? When it’s -19C forget flitting about! Stay warm! But the cold also meant that the sky was exceptionally blue, and there was hoar frost over the land that was the most amazing I’ve ever seen! Jack Frost indeed – he and his frigid friends had spent the night painting with their crystal brushes, and the results were no less than spectacular.
There’s one little side road, near the cemetery where last year I spotted a Bald Eagle. So, off I went. I parked to the side to adjust my boots which were too tight. As I bent over I heard the Ka Ka of a Common Raven, and looked up to see not one, but three drifting overhead -black shiny wedges against cerulean blue. But what was
that following closely behind? Immature Bald Eagle -1. Check!
Amazing -again, same place as last year.
There was magic in the air today.
By the time I was done – tired, hungry, getting chilled to the bone, my numbers were: 10 species, 360 birds. A bit higher than last year in fact. My numbers will be added to all the other counters numbers, and they will be sent to Audubon, and soon the grand totals will be in. Knowing that my 360 birds, my Bald Eagle, my Snowbuntings, will be part of the international tally is a small precious gift, from me, to me.
 I count. It counts.

Learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and the Audubon Society at: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/index.html