Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Littlest Birder

Every year, about a week or two before Christmas, I wake up before dawn and leave my warm bed and home, heading out into the cold in search of birds. I’m not alone. It’s all part of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. All across North and South America, groups of people large and small, choose a location and attempt to count all the birds within a 15 mile circle. To someone whose interests lay outside of birds, it may seem boring, silly, or a downright waste of time, but all I can say to that is to try it at least once. Even for someone who doesn’t know a robin from a blue jay, there’s something about driving along the country roads, binoculars in hand, scanning every bush, tree, and birdfeeder; a mania takes hold, driving you to find just one more kind of hawk, one more woodpecker, one more whatever-kind-of-bird that is on the telephone wire. I’ve counted in the rain, in blizzards, on days when it was so cold I had to have hand warmers in both gloves and my boots, but it didn’t matter. Those days, the birds are actually a little easier to find (harsh weather often causes the birds to gather at feeders in greater numbers; on warm days, the range farther across the countryside). I should mention that all of this craziness is for a good reason: wildlife biologists, ornithologist, and a bunch of other “-ists” use the information from the Christmas Counts to paint a picture, a picture of the status of birds in North America. Christmas Counts have gone on for over 100 years, so the scientists have a lot of data to go on, and every time a count takes place, it provides data that makes the picture broader and richer. What does all of this have to do with Violet? Well, I’ve done the Christmas Count at Beaver Meadow for about 13 years. During each one of those counts, I never spent a moment imagining future counts. This was the first year that I spent most of the day envisioning future counts. I kept picturing Violet by my side in a little snowsuit, a child-size pair of binoculars in her hand, pointing her mittened hand and saying, “Look, Daddy!” I know I’m getting ahead of myself. She may not even like birds, but I hope she does.

If the Christmas Count sounds like something you’d like to do, check out for a list of the Christmas counts still going on in your area. They take place during the two weeks before Christmas, as well as the two weeks after. So, you still plenty of time to take part.

28 days old

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