Christmas Bird Count 2001

Christmas Bird Count 2001

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

The northern edition of our Christmas bird count is split into a north and south section. Forty-one volunteers found 71 species of birds on the northern edition of our area’s Audubon Christmas bird count on Dec. 15th. This year, 27,580 individual birds were seen. Last year, slightly more than 14,000 birds were seen, represented by 62 species. This year, there was no snow, and the birds were spread out more, but they were more accessible to the CBC volunteers, who didn’t have to trudge through snow.

Eleven species of waterfowl were found, as well as record numbers of great blue herons and coots. Other notables were bobwhite, chipping sparrow, Eastern bluebird, Ross’s geese and short-eared owl. My father and I did a section of the north edition bird county by car. We worked the area for about four and a half hours. Dad drove while I identified and marked down the birds. Well, most of them, anyway, as Dad is getting better at it. He glimpsed a few that I missed. We traveled slowly, causing people to pass us as if they were firebirds—or, should I say, like birds that were on fire.

There are certain magical, funny qualities about doing the count. One is the early morning aspect of it, the smell of breakfast in the car, the chunk of Egg McMuffin that falls into your shoe. Another is smearing your glasses because the paper towel your dad hands you to clean them has gasoline on it. Another is the anticipation—counters calling each other right up to the night before, exchanging info about bird locations and last-minute volunteer replacements due to injury or surgery.

The CBC volunteers are getting up in years, and the average age is between 50 and 60, probably closer to 60. Don’t get me wrong, though; most of the volunteers are very healthy, and most can walk miles with little effort. No one is put in the field who might be at risk. Those of us who do the 440 in 4.4 days get a car route.

My team was lucky enough to see grackles, red-winged blackbirds, robins, bobwhites and a Northern harrier. The redwings flew by in a group. The grackles were at a feeder, which they often do when there are no insects around. The robins—American species—were eating berries on a small tree in a large yard. They eat berries when there are no insects. I think grackles eat berries, too, but I don’t think robins, that is, American robins, eat birdseed. The Northern harrier was seen flying close to the ground; then it landed on a fence post. The Northern harrier is a hawk, sometimes called a Marsh hawk. The bobwhite, a member of the quail family, were milling around on the ground among some 5-7-ft. pine trees.

The two volunteers who observed the Eastern bluebird had 41 species altogether. They also observed a purple finch and a winter wren, both of which spend the summer north of Illinois. They searched for the winter wren in a creek bottom using stealth and imitating the bird’s call. It worked! The wren popped up from a logjam singing, whereupon he discovered he’d been outwitted. Seconds later, he vanished between the logs.

The purple finch was the easiest to count. It was heard near the Rock River. Looking toward the location of the call, the counters watched the finch as it departed to thicker cover, not wanting to be spotted twice by eyeballs. The Eastern bluebird was seen flying into a group of trees near a yard. One of the counters crept up to the trees to make sure of the identification. The bird never moved, but he was seen by human eyes to be counted as he was. Birds know what they are, but we must work to know what they know. I bet you can’t wait to read about the Audubon Christmas bird count’s southern edition, where we endeavored to persevere so we could learn what these birds already know.

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