GNH Lumber February 2024

THROUGH THE WOODS: The 122nd Audubon Christmas Bird Count


DECEMBER 14 BEGINS the 122nd National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count season, which continues through January 5, 2022. According to the society, “far from having evolved into ‘just’ another holiday tradition, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is increasingly accepted by ornithologists and conservationists alike as one of the best tools available for assessing the long-term trends in the early winter bird populations of North America.”

Each individual CBC area has an established 15-mile diameter circle with portions assigned to different groups of birders. One count day is chosen for a particular circle and participants identify and record all the species of birds and the numbers of each for their area. The first CBC was held in 1900 and was led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman. It was an alternative to the “side hunt,” a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Now no wildlife is harmed.

Nuthatch in the rain. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

The Alan Devoe Bird Club conducts the Chatham CBC ,which has Chatham at its center, Spencertown to the east, and the Hudson River to the west. On Saturday, Dec. 18, ADBC members and additional volunteers will watch feeders and survey hundreds of miles of Columbia County roads looking for birds. We hope to have a beautiful day making it so much more pleasant than some years of snow, sleet and hazardous roads. The birds we will look for include Great Blue Heron which often stand at the edge of a pond or stream surrounded by Canada Geese. Many people watch their bird feeders for winter finches, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, etc. We always look for the unusual, like shrikes, grosbeaks, and summer leftovers. One year we found a meadowlark warming itself on a pile of steaming manure!

Many birds should be going south and probably will as soon as things freeze up and it is difficult to find food and shelter. Debbie Shaw from East Greenbush usually joins me for the day. We have done this count together for over thirty-five years and it is part of our Christmas season tradition. We have a great time birding as well as catching up on things and what we plan for the New Year. Participants have assigned areas to cover so we don’t count the same birds twice for the survey. Our usual area is part of the southeast quadrant of the Chatham circle which includes Rigor Hill Road and some parts of Spencertown and Ghent. I start the day early, monitoring my bird feeders until Debbie arrives. We pack my car with food, binoculars and scopes, cameras, cell phones and extra clothes. One year we were driving down Crow Hill Road toward Spencertown when a large dark bird flew up between trees in the woods. It flashed large areas of white. It was too white and too big for a Pileated Woodpecker. There was a brief thought of Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which was impossible (and possibly extinct), which shows how birders can sometimes hallucinate and then get a grip on themselves. It was that year’s best bird of the day, an adult bald eagle!

Due to the Covid pandemic we will not gather for a potluck supper and tally this year. ADBC is very proud to be part of this conservation effort. Audubon says over 70 million birds were counted by over 60,000 volunteers in past years, with counts taking place in all 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies, Pacific Islands, and more. So, wish everyone luck, and don’t be alarmed if you encounter groups of people with binoculars and spotting scopes, or listening to songs of birds from their cell phones. It is a big day for birders.

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