Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Tis the Season .... to Count the Birds!: Christmas Bird Counts

View of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and their lighthouses -- December 20, 2009 -- McClellanville, SC CBC
            When friends or family ask us if we have any travel plans for the Christmas holidays, Carl and I will quickly respond that no, no, we do not travel long distances during the 2 week holiday season.  If we did, we would miss out on the several area Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) in which we participate annually and which we eagerly anticipate every year with mounting enthusiasm.  Why are we so excited about this?  Well, we are granted access to beautiful, private land in the ACE Basin or on Dewees Island and to parts of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWR) and to SC Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) which are wonderfully wild and normally off-limits -- all to count all the birds that we can find. 

Murphy Island: part of the Santee Coastal Reserve WMA -- December 18, 2011 -- McClellanville, SC CBC

Seriously, the South Carolina Lowcountry offers some of the most lovely, pristine landscapes.  Who would not want to see those areas and the birds that inhabit them?! 

Caspian Tern & American White Pelicans  in mouth of South Santee River off of Murphy Island -- December 21, 2008 -- McClellanville CBC
Additionally, we improve our identification skills birding with some of the most expert birders in the state!  And we can then share our own specific skills helping more novice birders to see and identify the many birds.

Dewees Island, SC -- scouting for birds the evening prior to the Charleston CBC held on January 2, 2011

The excitement shared by birders spotting different species together creates a warm camaraderie.  Birding for us is a relished treasure hunt! 

Male Northern Harrier -- December 27, 2009 -- ACE Basin CBC

Bald Eagle hunting duck on Murphy Island -- December 19, 2010 -- McClellanville CBC

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher -- Santee NWR: Bluff Unit -- December 26, 2009 -- Santee, SC CBC

             More important than personal pleasure, our natural communities and those who cherish them derive many present and future benefits from Christmas Bird Counts and other national bird count days .  The National Audubon Society sponsors this count but many organizations use the data that it produces. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count page gives many examples of how the data have been used over the years to inform conservation measures and to inspire the Congress to pass such legislation as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  For another example, count data are used to determine bag limits for different species of waterfowl to protect the species from over-harvesting and thus possible extinction. 

Ducks and geese in the Santee NWR -- Bluff Unit -- December 26, 2009 -- Santee, SC CBC

Additionally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service use the data to help them determine the areas and birds in need of greatest conservation as well as types of protections to implement  through the Endangered Species Act.  Analysis of data, published in Audubon's 2009 Birds and Climate Change Report showed a northern shift of birds in their winter range to correspond with climate change warming trends.  CBC data were also used by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to produce their 2009 collaborative report, State of the Birds 2009, which revealed the disconcerting, significant decline in bird populations over the past 4 decades.  Such declines serve as a warning signal of the deteriorating health of our ecosystems and dictate a need for further collaborative efforts in strategic land management and conservation actions.  Two other Audubon reports produced in 2007, Common Birds in Decline and Watchlist 2007, using CBC data also revealed details on this plummet in populations of our much-loved common birds, which have declined on average by 68%, and identified 117 rarer species in the continental US and in Hawaii that are imperiled.  To quote David Yarnold's (President and CEO of  the National Audubon Society) latest editorial "Audubon's Christmas Bird Count: Doing Crowd-Science since 1900" which has been published this week in papers nationally (including our own Post & Courier), we are among the multitude of volunteers "who love birds" .... "who take conservation personally" .... "knowing that individual action matters."   We count those birds because it is fun!  And we also count birds to inform the scientists who then inform the policy makers, and to advocate to the government for better and more extensive conservation measures to preserve our precious natural resources.  

Volunteer counting birds on Dewees Island -- January 2, 2011 -- Charleston CBC

And again, in David's words, we are the ones who believe that during this season, "the greatest gift we can give them [the birds and nature], each other, our children and grand-children is a healthy, sustainable future."  And so we, an estimated 60,000 volunteers this year, are cheerfully conducting our counts (aka treasure hunts) in all kinds of weather and climates, submitting our data and advocating for a better future for our birds, their habitats and our natural ecosystems that sustain us all.

Common Loon in the rain -- Dewees Island territory  -- January 2, 2011 -- Charleston CBC

           If you want more information on how the counts are conducted, I suggest this Audubon Society link -- FAQs on the CBC.  Or, if you would like to learn of the 112 year history of the count, try this link, History of the CBC.

           So where do I go from here?  Well this is my introduction to my 5 Christmas Bird Counts this year -- one more than last year.  My subsequent posts will recount those experiences and will be entitled "'Tis the Season: My CBC no.  ____, Name of Count Circle, Territory of Count Circle, Part no. ____."  Having finished editing a very large set of photos from the first count I suspect that certain counts will require more than one post.  We shall see!  Thus, here and in the next few posts, I welcome you to my Christmas Bird Count Adventures here in the SC Lowcountry!  Vacationing here at home is just fine!

Intracoastal Waterway outside of McClellanville, SC -- December, 20, 2009 -- McClellanville CBC
them, each other, and our children and grandchildren is a healthy, sustainable future.

Read more here:
them, each other, and our children and grandchildren is a healthy, sustainable future.

Read more here:
them, each other, and our children and grandchildren is a healthy, sustainable future.

Read more here:

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