Birds count, and that’s why we count birds. In the early morning on December 18, twelve hardy and conservation-minded members of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society gathered on Mirror Lake to inventory our winter avian residents. Teams of oglers, with binoculars in hand, set out under the leadership of their most experienced birders.
The clear, brisk day sparkled with beauty and promise.
A Global Tradition of Citizen Science
Many other distant versions of this scene play out elsewhere in December and early January throughout North America and beyond. True to the generational mantra of many, these determined bird counters are acting locally and thinking globally.
This annual Christmas Bird Count is the largest and most important citizen science project conducted by the National Audubon Society in the U.S. and the Bird Studies group in Canada. Wrapping the 115th year, the numbers of birds and avian species observed continue to feed into a massive database that documents changing avian conditions in the Western Hemisphere.
The outcome is vital information about the changing numbers and changing habitats of birds:
- Which species are thriving and which are dwindling or threatened by extinction
- How habitats are changing given global warming, with what effects on bird populations
- How migratory patterns and pathways are changing
- What can be done to protect and safeguard this vital aspect of our life-sustaining ecologies
The CBC database has been central to the recent Audubon Birds and Climate Report.
What did our volunteers observe this year? Unfortunately, the trend is down both locally and nationwide, and the lovely weather enjoyed by all could not reverse that. The total number of species seen here this year was down by 2, to 41 and the total number of birds seen decreased by 99, to 977. Our birds are not thriving. Indeed, the Audubon Birds and Climate Report indicates that 314 bird species in North America are at risk, 126 of those species being climate endangered.
Some of the bird-watchers’ delights this year were a large flock of Pine Siskins, five species of woodpeckers including the impressive Pileated and two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Hermit Thrush, 25 Hooded Merganser and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Two of the teams enjoyed excellent views of Golden-crowned Kinglets, with males flashing their golden-edged, scarlet crowns.
It was a truly fun and rewarding morning for all, capped with bowls of hot chili and fresh cornbread provided by Edwin and Kay Poole. Hopefully more hardy souls will join in next year. This is citizen science at its best and everyone is invited.
To find out about upcoming events and local outings, visit the HPAS website at www.highlandsaudubonsociety.org.