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Annual bird count is underway and you can help

Baltimore oriole
Baltimore oriole Phil Fowler

Last Monday kicked off the 116th year of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the longest running citizen science project.

Every year birders look forward to the Christmas Bird Count season that runs from Dec. 14 to Jan 5. It’s an opportunity to spend a day in the field birding alone or in an organized group and collect data that is actually used to analyze short and long term trends in bird populations.

I spend just under a week participating in Christmas Counts. Today I am in Gaston County. Sunday I am in Davidson for the Southern Lake Norman Count. Charlotte is the 26th, Wilmington is Jan. 2.; and Southport, N.C. is Jan. 3. That’s five Christmas Counts and there are many who participate in more than that. This is the most exciting and anticipated period in the birding year for many birders.

There are more local counts that I just cannot help out on; York / Rock Hill, Iredell County, and Pee Dee NWR.

Every count area is a 15-mile diameter circle. Groups fan out to check assigned birding hotspots in their assigned section, sometimes starting for nocturnal species well before daybreak and finishing at dusk. As a rule I get started by 5:30 a.m. for each count I take part in. It is an exhilarating experience to watch the day break on a cold, still December morning with the owls and American woodcock vocalizing. Add a bunch of Geminid meteors and it is truly special.

It is also exciting because with so many birders in the field at one time some nice rarities are sure to be found. A top notch rarity or two always spices up any count. That is where you come in.

Some uncommon birds are easier to find at feeders instead of in the field. Hummingbirds, orioles, and some odd warblers develop site fidelity with their favorite feeders and become easy to see. If you are seeing any of those regularly at your feeders let me know and I can pass it along to the compiler for that area, if you happen to live within a count circle. Even if you don’t live within a count area I still want to know what odd stuff you might be seeing.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com