Monday, January 2, 2017

January 2, 2017

Location: St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park

This photo was taken about an hour into the South Brevard Christmas Bird Count, which I have been participating in for over a decade, and compiling for the last 6 years.

Christmas bird counts are a tradition that began back in 1900. Prior to that, there was a traditional yearly contest to see who could shoot the most birds and other critters. In 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman decided to start a new tradition of counting birds instead of shooting them1.

Since then, the Christmas Bird Counts have grown into largest Citizen Scientist project in the world, with tens of thousands of participants worldwide counting birds in the period between December 14 and January 5. Each count is comprised of a 15 mile radius circle, which is split into areas that, for continuity, are ideally birded by the same team each year. My job as compiler for the count is to assemble teams comprised of birders of appropriate skill levels, make sure all of the teams have the appropriate maps and paperwork, and then, after the count, compile all of the data and submit it to Audubon.

For the first 5-6 years I did the count, my honeybee and I covered area 12, located in the southwest quadrant of the (then known as) St. Sebastian Buffer Preserve. That area has pretty rough terrain, but is incredibly beautiful and teeming with wildlife. Since I have been the compiler, I have been taking on whatever area I have to as we have gained and lost team leaders over the years. This year, I took on the northwest quadrant of the park (Area 10, shown above), as well as the adjacent area (Area 1A), which is a little more urban.

There are many amazing things about the annual CBCs, but for me, the people are really what make it special. Today, for example, we were birding Area 1A, which is largely comprised of private ranch lands. We are always careful not trespass, and it is often difficult to track down owners of and receive permission to enter private property. But today, we were birding on the only public access road that transects Area 1A, and a couple stopped to ask what we were doing. We explained the count to them, and they incredibly graciously dropped what they were doing, had us follow them back into their ranch, and gave us permission to bird their ranch and the entire private road. This meant the world to me, not just because they were so kind to us, but because this area has never been included on the count before; having the area included omits a gap in the count circle, which means more accurate data for the count.

Sources: (1) History of the Christmas Bird Count

Photo and text © 2017 Dee Fairbanks Simpson

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