Beach to Bayou - December 2019
- Story by Dena Temple, photos by Dena and John Temple
It’s December. The days are short, the nights are chilly, and you’re tired of staring at the television or your computer screen waiting for spring. You’re longing for an excuse to get outdoors to enjoy the cool weather – and we may have just the answer for you: grab a pair of binoculars and participate in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
The National Audubon Society sponsors the international Christmas Bird Count program. With count circles in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and a number of other countries, this “citizen science” project is the oldest and largest of its kind.
The event began, surprisingly, as the “Side Hunt.” In the early days of the hobby, bird-watchers didn’t look for birds with binoculars – they collected birds by shooting them. Hunters chose teams, and the team with the highest kill tally was declared the winner.
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In 1900 Frank M. Chapman, an officer of the fledgling National Audubon Society, organized a new event to counter the sport-killing tradition, calling it the “Holiday Census.” The first census involved 27 counters and 25 count circles, and a total of 90 species of birds were counted. In the winter of 2017-18 a record-breaking 77,000 people participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count, tallying birds in 2,585 count circles, also a record. And roughly one-quarter of all species of birds in the world were tallied, yet another amazing feat!
Celebrating its 120th year, the event is still sponsored today by the National Audubon Society. “The Christmas Bird Count is a great tradition and an opportunity to be a part of 120 years of ongoing community science,” said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director, who started leading the community science effort in 1987. “Adding your observations to twelve decades of data helps scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more impactful.”
Here’s how it works: A circular area 15 miles in diameter is defined. This “count circle” is divided into territories, and teams of volunteers scour those territories and count every bird they see or hear. Common or rare, every single bird is important on the Christmas Bird Count!
After spending an invigorating day scanning fields, ponds and beaches, the teams get together for a “roundup” to compare notes, brag about interesting finds and commiserate about “the ones that got away.” It’s a great way to meet people who share your interest in the outdoors, and maybe learn a little something in the process.
There are 20 count circles in the state of Mississippi, including one in our immediate area, the Southern Hancock County circle. Counters have been tallying birds in this territory since 1976. In 2018, the 32 counters in the Southern Hancock count circle tallied 142 species of birds over the course of the count day – very impressive!
Participation is fun, and free. Birders with intermediate or better identification skills are particularly welcome. Beginners are usually paired with a more experienced participant, so you don’t need to be intimately familiar with your territory in order to enjoy the event.
This year, the Southern Hancock County CBC will be held on Tuesday, December 17. If you would like more information, contact the compiler, Ned Boyajian, at email@example.com.