2012 St. Paul Christmas Bird Count
In the late 1800s, some folks in the United States would spend the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day on what was called a “side hunt.” It was basically a time to go out into the woods and blast away at anything that moved: small mammals and birds, especially hawks and raptors.
This wasn’t to get food for the coming winter. It was a competition to see who could amass the greatest pile of corpses.
That began to change on Christmas Day 1900, when renowned ornithologist Frank Chapman and some 26 friends began what became the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Chapman had proposed that folks count instead of shoot, and see who could count the most birds of the most diverse species. That first year, they totaled 90 species.
Chapman’s idea has grown in the intervening 113 years to more than 63,000 counters in more than 2,200 locations covering the Western Hemisphere. In the United States alone, more than 665 species were identified last year.
The Christmas Bird Count has become one of the longest-running citizen science projects in the nation. The data reported in these surveys have chronicled fluctuations in many bird populations.
In 1960, the National Audubon Society documented the decline of several species, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons. They attributed the decline to thinning eggshells caused by the pesticide DDT. CBC data helped to illustrate this trend.
DDT was banned in 1972, leading to the recovery of many of these species.
The CBC takes place in a 15-mile-diameter circle. The St. Paul Audubon Society’s count circle is centered on the intersection of County Road B and Dale Street. It extends from North Oaks south to Lilydale and from northeast Minneapolis east to North St. Paul.
The St. Paul Audubon Society is holding its CBC on Saturday, Dec, 15. There are no guarantees of what the weather will be. Some years it’s been so cold that the car windows frost up and observers have to peek out a little opening at the top. Other years, it’s almost shirt-sleeve weather.
Bill Stjern, coordinator for St. Paul Audubon’s CBC, sets up teams of volunteer observers and assigns each team a section of the count circle.
Some teams go out before dawn to look for owls in their area. Many groups stop for breakfast together to plan their day.
Most teams go by car from point to point in their survey area and hike trails in the parks, fields and woodlands in their sector.
The purpose of the survey is to count every individual bird of every species in your area, seen while driving or walking, from the common crows, house sparrows and pigeons, to the more thrilling raptors, hawks, eagles, and woodpeckers.
At the end of the day, there is usually a tally party at someone’s home, a potluck where the teams get together and swap tales, sometimes exaggerating their sightings just a bit for effect. Reports of a roseate spoonbill are met with a great deal of skepticism.
Val Cunningham, a bird watcher, field trip leader and writer from the Como Park neighborhood has been participating in the St. Paul Audubon Society’s CBC for 23 years. “I love doing it,” she says, “even though when it’s over I ask myself, ‘Why?’ But I forget about the cold by March, and I’m ready for the next CBC. It’s a major National Audubon Society effort and I feel like I’m giving something back to birds through this citizen science survey. And it’s a great break in all the holiday craziness.”
If you’d like to join a CBC team, contact Bill Stjern at email@example.com. He tries to match beginning bird watchers with more experienced ones to ease you into the survey. Since team leaders and team members usually return from year to year, they’ll have a good idea of the more productive “birdie” areas in the assigned territory. You won’t be driving around aimlessly hoping to stumble across some remarkable birds.
Contact Stjern by Dec. 10, if you’re interested in participating.
If you live within the count circle and can’t join a team, you can still count the birds at your feeders on Dec. 15 and report them to the count coordinator. Let Stjern know in advance that you’d like to be a feeder watcher for the CBC.
There used to be a nominal fee to cover data reporting and administrative costs, but this year, participating in the CBC is free.
So join one of the longest-running citizen science projects and prepare to be surprised by the number of birds that are out and about in our Minnesota winter. “It’s fun to see what birds are doing on a winter’s day,” Cunningham says.
Clay Christensen has participated in the St. Paul Audubon Society’s and other Christmas Bird Counts for 25 years and was the count coordinator for a number of those years.
This article was re-printed from the Park Bugle. http://www.parkbugle.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17…