REGION — Over 100 volunteers gathered early in the morning at meet up points around the Buena Vista Lagoon for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 27.
The Christmas Bird Count happens nationwide from mid-December to early January. The bird count is touted to be the largest citizen collection of scientific data.
The count provides biologists and researchers a coast-to-coast snapshot of local ecosystems. Information is used to identify trends in species and habitats, prioritize conservation efforts, and plan and manage land use.
“It’s the largest, most successful, and most important citizen science project,” Andy Mauro, an ornithologist who oversees the Buena Vista Audubon Society count, said.
Twenty-five teams of volunteers count birds within eight miles of the Buena Vista Nature Center. Each team has specific sites within the overall area to conduct the counts.
Teams are comprised of anywhere from two to 20 volunteers, among them are some of the best ornithologists in the county.
Mauro said everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of experience. Volunteers are placed on the team where they will have the most rewarding experience.
“It’s an excited, happy crowd of people,” Mauro said.
Volunteer Tom Troy has helped as a team leader in the annual bird count for 10 years. He said it’s a great way to introduce people to the beauty of nature, and ongoing conservation efforts.
“Birds are remarkable, beautiful, captivating and fascinating,” Troy said.
Volunteers are emailed information, a map, and birding tips ahead of time.
The morning of the count Troy goes over birding basics with his team of beginners, and the group sets off with checklists, binoculars and identification books in hand.
Volunteer Dovie Christensen is part of the beginner group. She said she has taken on birding as a hobby, and enjoys learning something new about birds each time she goes out.
During the count volunteers record the type of species and number of birds they see. If a rare species is spotted, an official reporting form is filled out. Last Sunday there were a few unique sightings.
“Several species were seen for the first time,” Mauro said. “A blue headed vireo, magnolia warbler, and four different species of orioles which is unusual in the wintertime.”
At the end of the day all of the volunteers gathered at the nature center to eat home-cooked chili prepared by the center’s director, and help compile a preliminary species count.
The ritual is called “the reading of the list.” Mauro calls out the name of each of the 700-plus regional species, bird by bird. If a team spotted the named species they raise their hand and it’s noted on the day’s overall count.
This year, 196 species were seen, which is a high count.
Weather plays a part in how many birds come into view also.
“It was a really good count,” Troy said. “The wind was a little bit of a factor, but it was a picture perfect day.”
Mauro said he takes the next two days to go over volunteers’ tally sheets to add up the number of birds that were spotted within each species. The data is sent to the National Audubon Society and becomes part of the national database.
The Buena Vista Audubon Society was established in 1953. It began annual bird counts in 1956. The nature center opened in 1988.