December 10, 2012

Maine birders ready for Christmas count

By Deborah Sayer dsayer@pressherald.com
News Assistant

Some people like to do it within the warm confines of their home, a camera at the ready.

click image to enlarge

Joanne Stevens, left, and Marie Jordan take part in a past York County Christmas Bird Count at the Cliff House in Ogunquit.

Courtesy photo

MAINE BIRD COUNTS

Here is a list of upcoming Maine Bird Counts and their contacts:

Dec. 15 — Greater Portland, Bill Hancock, 657-3485; Pemaquid/Damariscotta, Dennis McKenna, 522-2891; Phippsburg/Georgetown, Don Hudson, 443-9795.

Dec. 17 — York County, Pat Moynihan, 284-5487.

Dec. 22 — Lewiston/Auburn, Stan DeOrsey, 933-2266; Thomaston-Rockland, Don Reimer, 273-3146.

Dec. 27  — Sweden (Bridgton Area), Jean Preis, birdwriter@merryfieldcove.com.

Dec. 29 —  Freeport/Brunswick, Don Hudson, 443-9795, or Stella Walsh, 807-3679.

Dec. 30 — Biddeford/Kennebunkport, Marie Jordan, 799-1408.

Jan. 1, 2013 — Schoodic Point, William Townsend, 288-5654.

Others prefer to do it outdoors, in a remote location, using binoculars.

It's the end result that matters for birding enthusiasts who plan to participate in the 113th Annual Christmas Bird Count that begins Friday and goes through Jan. 5.

More than 2,000 such counts are expected to be held across the United States during that time period, as well as in many other countries around the world.

The goal is the same for all participants (who are considered citizen scientists): to document the kinds and numbers of bird species found in a variety of winter habitats.

Prior to 1900, hunters participated in an annual holiday sporting ritual aimed at seeing who could bag the largest number of birds and small game in one day.

With the inception of the Christmas Bird Count in 1900, participants turned in their guns for notepads, sketchbooks, and eventually cameras, to help identify and document the avifauna populations they encountered at known bird sanctuaries.

The National Audubon Society oversees the event. The Maine count will include more than 30 birdwatching clubs, whose members will man counting stations at dedicated posts, spanning from extreme southern York County to Calais and north to Caribou.

Birding enthusiast and count compiler Pat Moynihan will oversee Maine's southernmost bird census as compiler for the York County Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 17.

Moynihan and a crew of novice and expert birders will set up a viewing camp at six sections within a 15-mile wide circle, ranging from Moody Beach to Fort Foster.

They will arrive just before sunrise and remain there until sunset to provide a more complete census of birds known to frequent their area.

"Of course, people do not have to brave the cold and wind to be part of the count," said Moynihan. "They can watch their bird feeders and report their sightings to us, as long as they are within the bird count area on that day. Some of our most exciting sightings have come from a bird feeder."

The Biddeford/ Kennebunk Count, headed by count compiler Marie Jordan, will follow on Dec. 30, extending from Parson's Beach to the Cascades new Old Orchard Beach; an area that, last year, reported the presence of 85 different species.

"This Christmas count gives us a look at the winter distribution of birds," said Jordan, noting the data collected helps ornithologists and scientists to better document trends in bird migrations, explaining sightings of birds who seem to be out of their seasonal habitats.

Jordan said that a ready food supply for birds is a big part of their migration patterns.

"Most birds can endure cold temperatures so long as they have food to eat," said Jordan. "Some species, such as passerines, or song birds, are insect eaters that winter over in warmer climates where bugs are more plentiful. Other species can exist on seeds and berries."

"This year, we're expecting to see a large number of fruit-eating finches due to a food failure up north," said Jordan. "We are also seeing a decline in gull species, probably due to the closing of open landfills over the past several years; gulls are scavengers."

The presence of bird feeders also is a big draw for birds, including species venturing farther outside of their typical nesting range.

"In the 1960s we didn't see cardinals in Maine, now we have them overwintering here," said Jordan, who supplies her crews with checklists that include the names of birds known to be seen in the area based on past counts.

"We have nine viewing areas within our circle, eight of them including a small section of the coastline to view seabirds," said Jordan.

At the end of the day, the groups will gather at a central location to turn in their findings, share a meal and some stories about their adventures in birding.

Of course, the watches are not exclusive to daytime.

"These are 24-hour events and a few of our birders go out in the dark to do some pre-dawn owling," said Jordan. "Occasionally you'll see an owl but you don't have to see them to identify them. A good birder uses their ears as well as their eyes to identify the birds (by their call)."

"Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology has a great website (www.allaboutbirds.org/Page.aspx?pid=1189), offering an extensive list of bird (identification facts and audio samples of bird calls)," said Jordan.

All of the data collected by these "citizen scientists" is passed along to National Audubon, who forwards it to Cornell to be included on its website.

The feedback submitted includes detailed field reports, with photo identification, when possible, to help verify or confirm unusual or rare bird sightings.

"Last year we counted a total of 12,710 birds, and the year before that, nearly 16,000," said Jordan, who noted the annual tally has a lot to do with weather.

Interested participants should call to register and get on a team.

Those interested in participating in the Christmas count or learning more about the sport should go to www.NationalAudubon.org.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com

 

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