Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — December 2008

Christmas Bird Counts Are Perfect for Beginning Birders

by Dr. Stan Kotala

From December 14, 2008 through January 5, 2009, tens of thousands of volunteers will take part in an adventure that has become a tradition among generations, the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon.

For more than a hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house in the middle of winter to participate in this endeavor. These citizen scientists are taking action for conservation. By participating in the Christmas Bird Count, they help scientists understand how birds are faring.

The longest running Citizen Science program in the world, the count originally began on Christmas Day in 1900 when ornithologist and legendary birder Frank Chapman posed an alternative to an earlier traditional holiday “side hunt.” Chapman proposed “hunting” birds to record their numbers, instead of firing a shotgun. Decades of data have added up to results envied by other scientists who don’t enjoy such a fleet of volunteer help, or creatures as easily seen and counted as birds.

Each count occurs in a designated circle, 15 miles in diameter, and is led by an experienced birder, or designated “compiler.” Counting is the first step in learning how environmental threats are affecting our birds. The proverbial “canaries in the coal mine,” birds provide an early warning indicator of the health of the world we all share.

Perhaps the most festive Christmas Bird Count in our region is Juniata Valley Audubon’s which is centered on the village of Culp in Sinking Valley, Blair County. Under the direction of compiler Heidi Boyle, teams of birders scour the countryside throughout the morning and gather for a communal lunch break at a local restaurant or a Juniata Valley Audubon member’s home. More birding in the afternoon is followed by the much-anticipated Christmas Bird Count dinner which traditionally is held at the Mount Charma estate on Brush Mountain near the village of Skelp. The data are then compiled and stories about the day’s adventures are swapped.

The Christmas Bird Count is an ideal time for those who are interested in birding to begin this hobby because birds are now unobscured by foliage and experienced birders are present to aid with identification.

If a day of camaraderie afield sounds appealing to you, then you should take this opportunity to participate in one of Audubon’s local Christmas Bird Counts:

State College CBC
Sunday, December 14 [2008]
Compiler Bob Fowles (rbf@psu.edu) or Jim Dunn (jwd6@psu.edu)

Juniata Valley Audubon CBC (Village of Culp)
Saturday, December 20 [2008]
Compiler Heidi Mullendore (hmullendore@state.pa.us)

Bald Eagle CBC
Sunday, January 4 [2009]
Compiler Bob Snyder (rhs2@psu.edu)

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Dr. Stan Kotala is the Wildlife and Endangered Species Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.