That's why I participate in Christmas Bird Count. Not one Christmas Bird Count. Not two, three, or four Christmas Bird Counts, but I signed up to participate in five different Christmas Bird Counts this year. Non-birders that spend their life doing things like golfing, quilting, etc, might ask another question: What is a Christmas Bird Count? A Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a citizen science project to get a sampling of birds in a 15-mile radius circle. There are many (hundreds? thousands?) count circles nationwide, and the "Count Circle Coordinator" gets to pick a date, between December 14 and January 5 to conduct the local CBC. Then, the data gets submitted to Audubon and becomes part of the annual Christmas Bird Count. Each Count Circle is divided into Sectors. Once again the power is given to the Count Circle Coordinator and he or she gets to choose how many Sectors to divide the Count Circle into. For the data set, it doesn't really mater as the data gets reported by Count Circle, not by Sector. But it would be impossible for one birder, or one party of birders to thoroughly bird a 15-mile radius area.
Each Sector (Count Circle Coordinators generally choose to divide Circles into about 6-9 Sectors) has a Sector Leader. As soon as the Count Circle Coordinator asks if someone is willing to be a Sector Leader, and the person agrees, the Sector Leader becomes responsible for managing their sector. They coordinate with other people joining them, they choose their start time, their route within their sector, etc. You have to be a good and respected birder to become a Sector Leader because you don't want Joe Blo off the street counting birds, and mis-identifying them. If you are a new birder, I suggest you contact a Count Circle Coordinator and ask to be assigned as an assistant to a Sector Leader.
Well, that was an H of a lot of explaining about what is a CBC. Now, the fun part, my experiences of Winter 2013-2014 CBC birding. Here goes:
As I mentioned above, I signed up to participate as either a Sector Leader (3 or 4 counts) or an experienced assistant (1 or 2 counts) for a total of 5 counts, between December 14 and January 5. I was going to participate in (all Virginia): Rockingham December 14 (Sector Leader), Augusta December 15 (experienced assistant to my good friend who was Sector Leader), Rockbridge December 22 (Sector Leader), Waynesboro January 4 (either Sector Leader or experienced assistant), and Lake Anna January 5 (Sector Leader). Unfortunately Rockingam December 14 was postponed to January 4 due to snowy road conditions and since I had signed up as a Sector Leader, I had to drop out of participating in Wayneboro this year. 4 isn't too shabby though :). Last Sunday, Sector Leader Vic, Rose (both good friends of mine), and I ran SE sector for Augusta count. We had a fun, but in birding terms, rather uneventful day.
Yesterday my dad and I ran a sector on the north edge of the Count Circle for Rockbridge/Lexington Count. My dad and I had a fabulous day in our sector logging in 53 species highlighted by a Merlin! A Merlin (for anyone unaware) is a mid-sized, dark falcon, that usually only passes through this area in migration. December 21st is bloody late for a migrant Merlin so this was either a rare over-wintering bird or a bird that missed the bus several times! Showing how rare this Merlin was, this was the first Merlin recorded on the annual Lexington CBC since 1977! Truly, a fantastiche bird. Better yet, it posed in great light for us for over 10 minutes while eating breakfast, which, this day was an unfortunate Eastern Bluebird.
I'm looking forward to two more CBCs and I encourage any interested birder to participate in a CBC! Happy Birding,
Merlin eating Breakfast (Eastern Bluebird)