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In my CBC announcements, I usually make comparisons to prior years – it will not come as a surprise to any of you that 2020 will be an exception to that rule. For the past seven months birding as a social activity has been severely curtailed by Covid restrictions and precautions, and at present there is no end in sight to these limits on group birding. Directly tied to the wider Covid-related restrictions, the National Audubon Society issued a bulletin in which they set several strict guidelines for holding a Christmas Bird Count, if one can be held at all under local government regulations:

  1. Wait until November 15 at the earliest to confirm CBC will take place, if local regulations allow.
  2. Cancel all in-person compilation gatherings.
  3. Social distancing and/or masking are required at all times in the field.
  4. Carpooling may only occur within existing familiar or social “pod” groups.
  5. Activities must comply with all current state and municipal COVID-19 guidelines.

Keeping these five guidelines in mind, I think we should still be able to run our CBC this year. However, I cannot yet say with certainty that we will be allowed to – the local and State health authorities can at any time institute another lock-down, which will mean that NAS will not allow us to run a CBC at all. Therefore, I can only tentatively say that this year’s Ann Arbor CBC will take place on Saturday, December 19th. Keep a close eye on the WAS CBC page (https://washtenawaudubon.org/events-top/christmas-bird-count) for updates!

For now, I can tell you that some things will stay the same, and that others will change. The circle will still be divided in eight parts, each coordinated by an area leader (see the listing below). You can sign up for a given area by registering on the WAS CBC page, by contacting the area leader by phone, or by contacting me - I can assign you to an area where volunteers are needed most. Social distancing and wearing a mask will be required of all participants, and carpooling can only be done within the confines of the rules set by NAS. These guidelines may prompt us to set a limit on the number of counters per area, so as to maintain social distancing more readily while out in the field.

The biggest change will be the cancelation of the potluck-tally event. Even if the University of Michigan were to allow it, the NAS guidelines do not. Instead, we will hold the tally remotely at 6:30 p.m., via Zoom:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://umich.zoom.us/j/98850893544
Or Dial: +1 312 626 6799
Meeting ID: 988 5089 3544
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Tune in to hear about all the avian goodies that were turned up by our counters. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the “oohs” and “aahs” associated with a rare species or with an impressive tally for a given species!

As I write this, our area is in the middle of a major irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, and even Evening Grosbreaks (!) – this newsletter’s rarity article has tried to put the magnitude of the irruption in context. For now, check out the contrast between the October 2019 and 2020 eBird range maps for Purple Finch below!

Screenshot 11 18 20 4 13 PM

Certainly, it would be great if these visitors from the north were to hang around until count day. But their presence this early in the season also begs the question what other species will find their way down to our neck of the woods. For example, will we experience a White-winged Crossbill irruption like we did in 2008-2009? Or will (a few) Pine Grosbeaks turn up locally, for the first time since the 1980s? Time will tell – no matter what, our count will continue to contribute its piece to the overall picture of winter bird distribution in the western hemisphere. To check out historical CBC results for yourself, visit The National Audubon Society’s website (http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/). Here you can not only find overall trends, you can take a look at historical results for every count circle!

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 on the WAS CBC pages 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.

To participate in our count, please use the online sign-up form on the WAS CBC page. This way, you can designate the area in which you’d like to count, or, by not selecting a specific area, allow me to assign you to where you are needed most. After you’ve signed up, an alert is sent to me, which I will then forward to the area leader of your preferred count area. Of course, you can also still email or call me (CBC Compiler Jacco Gelderloos) or your preferred area’s leader - check out the detailed maps on the WAS website to see which of the eight count areas suits you best.

If you’d rather not brave the weather (whatever it may be like on count day), or if you would prefer to not take any chances with COVID, you can stay indoors and pitch 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.

Information regarding the count will be updated immediately if anything new becomes available – please make sure to check the WAS CBC page where any updates will be posted as count day approaches. Given the volatile situation surrounding our CBC this year, please keep an eye on http://www.washtenawaudubon.org/ for news and updates.

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