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I’ll Be Birding For Christmas

by Damian Fagan

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is like an Easter egg hunt for adults. But instead of hunting for chocolate eggs, teams of birdwatchers congregate in Castle, Spanish and Moab Valley to record all birds seen or heard. Like a party of jays or maybe a siege of herons, these birders leave no bush unchecked.

The CBC started 108 years ago by Frank Chapman and the fledgling Audubon Society. Their count was in opposition to a traditional holiday event called the “Side Hunt.” That avian affair consisted of blasting away at birds, then counting the carnage. Fortunately, the nonconsumptive version flourished; today over 2,000 counts are held across North America and over 52,000 birders participate.

Today, the National Audubon Society still sponsors the event and the data provides a snapshot of winter bird populations. It also provides a fun and entertaining avenue for birders and nature-enthusiasts to spend a day in the field, getting to know their feathered winter residents and neighbors alike. Nothing like staring at your neighbor’s front yard with binoculars to really get to know them.

This year’s Moab CBC will actually be held next year – January 5, 2008. There is a two-week window in which the count may take place and the Moab group chose the first Saturday in January.

The beauty of the CBC is that all birds are considered equal. Flocks of starlings, nasty house sparrows and other LBJs (Little Brown Jobbers) are all dutifully recorded. At any other time of year birders would probably overlook these species, but not during the coveted Count Week.

Count Week is the seven-day period that straddles Count Day. Birds only observed during the three days prior and the three days after Count Day are recorded for this time period. Hopefully any rarities or oddities are relocated on Count Day, but sometimes not. Conversely, species missed on Count Day may be searched for during the final three days of the count. And birders don’t like to send in their results to the national compiler without the common species checked off.

The Moab Bird Club sponsors the local count. Team leaders are assigned to predetermined areas and they in turn roust others to join them. Even inexperienced birders are welcomed, as the searching and recording is a lot easier with more sets of eyes.

Some areas are searched on foot, others through a combination of walking and driving. All have their uniqueness and special species to watch for. Over the years, I have been assigned to almost every area and have never been disappointed with the one I surveyed.

I’ve seen a convocation of eagles riding the thermals up above Castle Rock to an imaginary line before they beelined it towards the river. I’ve counted paddlings of ducks rising off of the river or the sloughs. I’ve searched for a rafter of turkeys, but have only seen one or two at a time. And as for that parliament of owls, I think they were not in session during Count Week.

This citizen science count represents the longest running database in the field of ornithology. Some people choose to participate as “feeder watchers” monitoring their bird feeders and backyards during the day and recording the highest numbers of a given species observed throughout the day.

Even though there is a dedicated core of birders that participate in the CBC, additional help is always needed. Recorders keep track of the species observed and spotters help to locate other birds. Plus, there is often enough time for the more experienced birders to assist the beginners with identification tips, as well.
So my apologies to Bing Crosby who recorded the song I’ll be Home for Christmas. Although I’ll be home for the holidays, look for me out birding.

This year’s Christmas Bird Count, the 108th running, will be held January 5, 2008. Contact coordinator Marcy Hafner at 259-6197 or for more information on the count and post-count gathering and be sure to mention you read about it in Moab Happenings.


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