December 9, 2013

Dierdre Fleming: Birding is a passion the world over

With 1,600 species of birds in Ecuador, the country is a tremendous birding destination.

For the dozens of Mainers who participate, the Christmas Bird Count here is a chance to share one of their favorite outdoor activities: listening for and identifying birds.

And in Cuba and Ecuador the experience is exactly the same, said Phil Vaughn, producer of birding documentaries at New Hampshire Public Television.

Next week Vaughn’s most recent documentary, “Counting on Birds,” will be shown at Maine Audubon in Falmouth.

The showing will be 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Gilsland Farm on Route 1 in Falmouth.

There are 33 groups in Maine that go out each December to count birds in the Christmas Bird Counts, said Linda Woodard with Maine Audubon. The annual count is long-standing, organized and well-attended, and that’s the tradition of birding in New England. Here the count is well-established and embraced by locals, and has been for decades.

In Ecuador it’s new, but the same level of devotion for it exists, said Vaughn. It’s just that in South America birding is a part of a more recent movement to bring in eco-tourism to the region.

With some 1,600 species of birds in Ecuador, Vaughn said that country is a tremendous but little-realized birding destination.

“There are workshops leading up to the Christmas Bird Count there for anyone who wants to learn how to do it,” Vaughn said. “People very young in age to old people were there to learn how to bird and count birds. People can be really engaged 20 miles down the road and just learning it in another nearby community. It’s quite interesting.”

That was the one outstanding difference between New England and South America.

In the state with the oldest population, Maine boasts a set of older birders who count birds for the Christmas survey. In South America, however, there are children who help with the task, Vaughn said.

“In Ecuador we found a lot of young people, ages 6, 7, 9, 11 and 12, and teenagers. They are really interested. They had birding books with them and were asking questions. They were engaged,” Vaughn said.

Another obvious difference, Vaughn said, is the weather. But that underscores the passion for birding in Maine.

“In Maine and New Hampshire, I was talking to people standing in 20 below zero wind. Why do they do what they do? What I learned is people love the camaraderie; they love being with other birders. They love being outdoors and enjoying their environment,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said the common thread among birders in New England and the Americas is the passion for it.

“We always have the police called on us,” said Woodard, the director of the Scarborough Marsh Nature Center and a Christmas Bird Count leader for 20 years.

“I always call the police and explain to them I’m doing the Christmas Bird Count again, so they can tell people we’re just counting birds. And it would really help if those people filled their feeders to bring the birds in.”

Woodard said the Christmas Bird Count is unlike other bird-a-thon counts because it truly engages citizens in scientific work.

“I look forward to it every year, because you count every bird. It’s not just noting the species. It’s fun, you see another starling, another chickadee, another herring gull. Normally you wouldn’t get excited over another herring gull,” Woodard said.

For more information on the “Counting on Birds” documentary, go to www.maineaudubon.org.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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