If you are looking for a great way for you and your family to become citizen scientists without leaving your home, take part in the 2019 edition of the Great Christmas Bird Count. All you have to do is record the birds you see in as little as 15 minutes at least once during the four-day count period. This year the Great Backyard Bird Count begins Friday February 15 and runs through Tuesday February 19.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada sponsor the count.
The count enables biologists to monitor the status of bird populations in the United State and abroad. These data are also proving invaluable in assessing the impacts of weather and habitat change on bird populations.
The scope of this survey has changed dramatically since its inception in 1998. What was initially a survey conducted in North America, the project has gone global. This past year 214,018 volunteers from more than 100 countries took part in the count.
As you might expect, most of the checklists (108,921) submitted in 2018 were sent in from the United States. However checklists were turned in from countries such as Columbia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica, and Mexico to name but a few.
When to checklists were tallied it was determined 6,310 species of birds were seen. Remarkably, these birds represent more than half of the species of birds in the entire world.
Here is the list of the ten species whose names appeared most often on checklists in 2018: northern cardinal (48,956), dark-eyed junco (43,742), mourning dove (43,412), American crow (40,959), blue jay (37,549), downy woodpecker (36,495), house finch (34,766), black-capped chickadee (21,942), and house sparrow (31,884), and European starling (28, 683).
Interestingly, the most numerous species seen last year was the snow goose. Some 4,957,118 of the large white and black waterfowl were sighted.
If you would like to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, the first thing you need to do is decide how many areas you want to survey. It is totally up to you where and how many areas you wish to conduct your count efforts. Most folks simply count the birds they see in their backyards. Others survey several areas. Next, go online and register for this year’s count. I should note the count is free.
The only stipulation is you survey a spot for a minimum of 15 minutes. A count can be conducted at a location only once or every day during the four-day count period.
After you complete a count, you simply submit your data online (birdcount.org). After I submit my data, I like to pull up the map that displays the data collected throughout the state in real-time.
Since you only submit data for the birds you can identify, practically anybody can take part in the survey.
For details concerning how to register and conduct your count(s) visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website.
I sincerely hope you will take part in this year’s count. If you do, you will be birding with a purpose and have a lot of fun along the way.
I honestly believe that the enjoyment we all receive from watching wildlife is greatly enhanced by simply sharing our sightings with others. This concept was recently reinforced when I gave a talk about hummingbirds to the Southern Wings Birding Club in Lawrenceville.
After I made my presentation, the club’s president asked all present to share some of the fascinating sightings they had made since their last meeting. He made sure everyone had a chance to contribute by asking each member, in turn, to contribute to the conversation.
A few people talked about the birds they had seen on recent trips to far off locations in quest of adding birds to their life lists. As these folks described seeing such unusual species as red-necked phalaropes, I am sure I was not alone in hoping that one day I too would be able to make a similar trek.
While such reports were thoroughly fascinating, what impressed me most was the fact that everyone was eager to tell stories about the birds they see on a daily basis in or nearby their own backyards.
The reports ranged from a woman seeing an American bittern perched on a utility line near a small marsh flooded by recent rains, to a man that told how raccoons had become so fond of the nectar in his hummingbird feeders; he had to take the feeders inside every night. One member described how brown thrashers rummaged through the top of a tree he cut down in his backyard as he worked nearby. Several people spoke about the fascinating behavior of the Carolina wrens that inhabit their yards. A remarkably large number of hawks were the subjects of many reports. I found it interesting to hear one-woman talk about feeding blue jays and how they come looking for her when they want to be fed. Still others discussed seeing everything from blue-gray gnatcatchers to indigo buntings in their yards.
As people shared their experiences, the room was full of laughter and fellowship. It was obvious to me all of the members genuinely felt they were contributing to the discussion. Even after the meeting had closed, people were still talking with one another about birds and other wildlife.
It was also great to see more experienced birders interacting with beginners. Everyone was learning from one another. As such, they are gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world. There is no doubt in my mind the quality of the life these people enjoy is enriched by the wildlife they see on a daily basis.
If there is a bird or nature club in your neck of the woods, attend one of its meetings. If a club is not located nearby, consider starting one. Either way, if you do, you will be better for it.
Recently while I was taking a morning walk before the temperature began to soar; a female eastern tiger swallowtail slowly flew in front of me. In fact, the large butterfly seemed to glide more than fly. When she did beat her wings, they flapped slowly. As I watched, the butterfly landed on the leaves of a nearby shrub. She chose to land in a spot that was bathed by the light of the rising sun. Upon landing she kept her wings outstretched and remained motionless for quite some time.
The butterfly is a cold-blooded animal. This means that it cannot control its body temperate such as warm-blooded animals like you and me. Consequently a butterfly’s body temperature reflects the air temperature. In comparison, our body temperature remains constant at all times.
The next time you are out and about on a sunny, cool morning be on the lookout for basking sites. Once you find one, you can often find butterflies there day after day,
In the case of the butterfly, most are not seen flying about when the temperature dips below 55˚F. In fact the ideal temperature for butterflies to be winging about is roughly between 80 and 100˚F.
When the temperature is below this zone the insect’s flight muscles are not capable of contracting as quickly as they are when temperatures are high. In addition, butterflies expend more energy moving their flight muscles when it is colder.
Since butterflies need to start moving about as quickly as possible to escape predators and find food and mates, it behooves them to take to the air as soon as they can each day.
One way they are able to do this is to take advantage of the warming effects of solar energy. The butterfly that drifted to a nearby bush in front me was doing just that. She positioned herself to maximize the amount of solar radiation striking her wings and body. This would allow her to begin daily activities much sooner than would have been possible if she perched in the shade.
Dark butterflies, such as the female eastern tiger swallowtail, are able to fly sooner in the day than butterflies that are lighter in color. The reason for this is darker colors absorb more solar energy than light colors.
As you can see, one of the best times to watch or photograph butterflies in your backyard is early in the morning. During this special time of day if you find a basking butterfly, it will often remain motionless longer than it would if you found it in your garden later in the day. As long as you do not disturb a basking butterfly, you can take pictures of it to your heart’s content.
You can create additional butterfly basking sites by placing large, flat, dark-colored stones about your garden and yard.
If you have ever been disappointed with an attempt to take a great close-up shot of a butterfly or flower, I have a suggestion that may help. This tip is especially helpful in eliminating shadows and enhancing the bright colors of your subject.
Begin by setting your camera on the Program mode. On my camera it is represented by the letter P. I then pop up the camera’s built-in flash and snap the picture.
The result is I eliminate any shadows that may be shrouding part or all of my subject. This also makes my subject seem to pop out from the background.
One thing to keep in mind is you need to be fairly close to your subject since most of these small flashes don’t effectively illuminate subjects more than six or so feet away.
Are you interested in tips on attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wild pollinators? Make plans to attend the Spring Gardening Symposium in Plains on May 5. I will be making a presentation entitled Inviting Butterflies To Your Backyard.
We hope you will join us for an exciting workshop on spring planting, pollinators, hummingbirds, planting demonstrations, and how to make a container garden. Lunch is included.
In addition to great speakers and demonstrations, we will have a plant sale featuring milkweeds, perennials, shrubs and trees that provide nectar and host for pollinators.
If you are looking for a great activity that your whole family can enjoy, why not join the thousands of wildlife enthusiasts across the nation and around the world that will take part in the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)?
This year the twentieth annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 17, through Monday February 20.
The count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada.
The information collected by thousands of volunteers provide wildlife biologists with a wealth of information regarding the status of birds throughout the United States, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, India, Morocco, Botswana and 123 other countries.
The data collected during this annual event are being used by biologists in a host of ways. For example, it helps us better understand how weather affects bird populations and the timing of bird migrations. It is also being utilized to determine the impact of diseases such as West Nile virus on birds. In addition, it is proving to be invaluable in assessing the impacts of widespread habitat changes on both bird diversity and numbers.
Joining the ever-growing army of private citizens that are aiding in this monumental effort is as easy as one, two, three.
The first step is to visit the GBBC website online at birdcount.org. Here you will find the simple directions needed to compile a checklist and submit your valuable data. In addition, if you download the count form, you will have a good idea what birds are likely to be seen in your area of the state.
Next, select an area(s) you want to survey. The area can be as small as a backyard, neighborhood, park, the countryside you pass on your drive to work, or an entire county for that matter.
Then, anytime during the four-day count, take as few as fifteen minutes away from your busy schedule and count only the birds that you can recognize. If you only feel comfortable identifying cardinals, simply count cardinals.
You can conduct a count on one or all four days of the count period. If you count on different days, you must submit a separate checklist for each day that you run a count. Many people survey a variety of sites each day during the count period.
Once you have completed a count, return to the GBBC website, and log your data. Although some people wait until the end of the count period to submit their sightings, I like to submit mine the day I conduct each survey.
This allows me to see how my data is impacting the count. This is possible because the site provides participants with real time maps illustrating the flow of information arriving from the field. As the data pours in from around the state and country you can literally watch as the maps fill up with color indicating areas where birds were seen.
I cannot overemphasize that you do not have to be an expert birder to take part in the count. All you have to do is tally the birds that you can identify. For that reason, it is a great conservation activity for youngsters, and oldsters, seasoned birders and casual wildlife watchers alike.
In addition, you do not even need to leave your home to do something positive for the birds that make your backyard and neighborhood such wonderful places. It does not get any better than that!