Each year, for the past 116 years, expert and novice birders have spread out across America between December 14 and January 5 to observe and catalog birds for the Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count.
And so this morning, I ventured to Denmark (Maine, that is) to join a small group of fellow citizen scientists as we drove and walked around our assigned quadrant within a 15-mile circle.
Kathy, Katie, Stan and Howie welcomed me with open arms despite the fact that I was a few minutes late and they were already on the road. When it comes to birding, I’m always a wee bit nervous because I know the winter species at my feeding station like Black-capped Chickadees, but am not so great with others. This group, however, likes to joke and laugh, thus making the day a pleasure even in the cold wind.
We weren’t the only ones who felt the chill and thus the need to puff up and appear as if wearing a down-filled jacket. Everywhere it seemed, we saw Black-capped Chickadees and Blue Jays. It was interesting to note that a year ago our Blue Jay count was 16. Today’s count–bunches and bunches, making us wonder if the mast acorn crop had anything to do with their abundance.
White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches also seemed plentiful, and often, when we stepped out of the car, their yanks greeted us.
Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers made their presence known with a greeting of another kind.
I did hope we’d see a Pileated Woodpecker. Their works were certainly evident all along our route.
Some holes more recent than others.
Other holes more productive than some.
Instead, we saw Mourning Doves,
and Northern Cardinals.
For a few minutes we watched a male and female cardinal flit about in a shrub as they dined on its berries.
Here and there, we peered through our binoculars into people’s yards, especially if they had bird feeders. Thankfully we never heard sirens and no one yelled at us for stalking. In fact, one woman came out and said, “I know you are doing the Christmas Bird Count.” She went on to tell us about her observations, including an increase of Blue Jays as we’d noted, and dead swallows this past summer–perhaps due to the lack of insects.
It wasn’t until the end of the day that we finally saw Turkeys.
That surprised us given we all encounter them frequently, whether crossing a road or in the woods.
Our favorite siting of the day–a Snow Bunting.
I’d never seen one before so was thrilled with the opportunity.
Snow Buntings are nicknamed Snowflakes for the behavior of a flock that swirls through the air and lands on a winter field. Today, only one, but actual snowflakes fell as we watched. And one was enough to make us happy.
We saw other birds to add to our list. And . . . we encountered a couple of novelties including the Denmark Lizard, a rare species indeed.
Our final view–an owl. OK, so you need to use your imagination. But with this group of birders, that was easy to do.
By 4:00pm, our time together was done for another year. And we were all grateful for the opportunity to participate in the bird census, break bread together at lunchtime and make more than enough Blue Jay jokes.
Prior to 1900, the tradition was to shoot birds for identification and fun, including a holiday hunt where the biggest pile won. The Christmas Bird Count was first proposed by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman after the realization that the bird population was declining.
Because of Mr. Chapman, we spent a delightful day participating in a census that helps assess the bird population and guide conservation efforts.
We’d heeded the call.