In recent years’ CBC announcements, I have often mentioned the fact that I seem to be writing them on unseasonably warm days. Well, not so much this year! To say the weather during trick-or-treating last night was brutal would be an understatement – rain, wind, even snow buffeted the committed youngsters (and their equally committed parents) going door-to-door in our neighborhood. Could this be a sign of things to come in the next several months? Clearly, winter is on its way, but is this early cold snap a sign that we’re in for an extra cold and snowy season? Only time will tell, but what is for sure is that we are closing in on that greatest of winter birding traditions, the Ann Arbor CBC, sponsored by the Washtenaw Audubon Society. So get your pencils out and jot down Saturday, December 21st as the day where we somewhat mad birders will be heading out and counting birds to play our part in this hemisphere-wide citizen science event. Of course, setting an alert on your smart phones will work, too.
Last year, the major talking point was, justifiably, the first record of Townsend’s Solitaire for our count (and Washtenaw County, generally), found by Ben Hack and Sarah Toner – check out Lyle Hamilton’s amazing shot of this at times elusive rarity. We can only speculate what this year’s highlight will be, but be sure there will be a highlight, possibly several! Of course, that is just the more eye-catching aspect of the count – the event’s real impact is made by the collective data points we gather. Over the years, and in conjunction with all the other CBCs across the continent, these data points paint a picture of population trends and changes in distribution patterns for our feathered friends. Of course, our own circle’s 70+ years of counting do so as well – several (too many) species show distinct downward trends or have disappeared altogether, whereas others have become decidedly more common. I, for one, am curious what the 2019 count will bring and I hope you will be joining me in putting together our piece of the puzzle on the 21st!
The event brings out both advanced, intermediate, and beginning birders, and it is a wonderful occasion for volunteers new to the area, or birding itself, to meet the local birding community and become part of the Ann Arbor area’s extensive birding network. As a former newbie, I can attest to the warm and knowledgeable welcome WAS birders will and continue to give!
In keeping with general trends to make most, if not all, information available online, The National Audubon Society has been posting annual results on its website at http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/. This is an amazing resource, allowing you to check historical results for every count circle! In addition, you can sign up for NAS’s citizen science publication American Birds, here: https://action.audubon.org/signup/sign-citizen-science; American Birds summarizes data not only for the Christmas Bird Count, but also the May Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and other citizen science efforts.
If you’re unfamiliar with the CBC format, a quick reminder of the nature of our count is in order. All CBCs are conducted during a 3-week period from December 14 to January 5, all over the western (and even a small and growing part of the eastern) hemisphere. Historically, the Ann Arbor count always takes place on the 3rd Saturday in December, to prevent scheduling conflicts with other nearby counts. Each count circle covers an area 15 miles in diameter; the Ann Arbor circle is centered on the Foster Road bridge, near the intersection of Maple Road and Huron River Drive and extends roughly from Dexter in the west to Dixboro in the east, and from Whitmore Lake in the north to the Ann Arbor Airport in the south – the map accompanying this article shows the count circle in immaculate detail. Our objective is to identify all bird species present in this circle and count how many individuals of each species are present. In addition to the daylight bird census, several hardy observers will conduct a pre-dawn search for owls.
There are a number of ways to participate in this count, the main one of which is field observer. Given how well the online sign-up option has been working, I would like to ask you all to use that feature on the WAS CBC page. Doing so will allow you to sign up for the event, designate a preferred area in which you’d like to count, and even indicate which dish you plan on bringing to the potluck (see below). After you’ve signed up here, an alert is sent to me, which I will then forward to the area leader of your preferred count area. With the help of these alerts, I get a good idea of which area is in need of volunteers, and I can then direct counters with no area preference to where they are needed most. Of course, you can still email or call me (CBC Compiler Jacco Gelderloos) or your preferred area’s leader - check out the detailed maps on our Christmas Bird Count page. Please sign up using the form on our Christmas Bird Count page, or go directly to the form.
If you’d rather not brave the weather (whatever it may be like on count day), there is always the option of staying indoors and pitching in as a feeder watcher. If you have a feeder within the count circle, this is a fun and easy way to participate. (Remember: the feeder MUST be within the count circle, otherwise the data is invalid for our count – simply type your address into Google Maps to make sure, or check with me). Like field observers, you may sign up to participate for any length of time – from one hour to all day. Contact feeder watch coordinator Kurt Hagemeister for more information, to sign up, or to get feeder watch forms.
As always, the real fun and excitement, the highlight of the event really, happens at the end of the day at the potluck dinner, when the final results are tallied and announced after dessert. In recent years the potluck has been held at the main meeting room of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens - all participants are invited! As I write this, no one has yet taken on the role of potluck coordinator - please contact me if you are interested in filling Nicole Sefton’s shoes. For now, just tell us what your food contribution will be when you sign up online – please note that alcohol is not permitted on the MBG premises. The MBG are located at 1800 N Dixboro Rd, just about one mile south of Plymouth Rd in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan charges a $1.20/hour fee at the Bot Gardens. Area leaders can give directions if you need them; plan to gather there around 5:15 – 5:30 p.m.
Please remember that the CBC is run entirely by volunteers and can always use your help. Consider helping out with the potluck set-up and clean-up: it is exceedingly helpful to arrive early at the potluck site, lend a hand setting up tables and chairs, and help prepare for the arrival and arrangement of food. This may also entail getting supplies such as tablecloths, plates, etc. (costs will be reimbursed by WAS). After the supper, we will need to clean up as well. Remember: many hands make light work!
Updates will be posted on this website as count day approaches. Please keep an eye on http://www.washtenawaudubon.org/events/christmas-bird-count for news and updates regarding the event.