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Local Audubon bird count on Dec. 14

By Becky Herman
Special to The SUN

The 114th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place in late December and early January.

Our local Audubon Chapter, the Weminuche Audubon Society (WAS), has chosen to again participate in this effort, the longest running Citizen Science Survey in the world, on Saturday, Dec 14.

Volunteers will spend that day seeking out birds and counting the number of each individual species. At the end of the day, after 4 p.m., participants gather at the Ross Aragon Community Center for chili and dessert, along with lots of camaraderie and good conversation about what happened earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, the count data are being compiled. It’s also a good time to reflect on the satisfaction which comes with being in nature and having substantially contributed to our local wildlife and to the conservation of wildlife habitat. Our efforts help preserve the environment so many of us have come to Pagosa to enjoy.

Prior to the turn of the century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition — a “Christmas Bird Census” — that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

In Pagosa Springs, we are continuing that 114-year-old tradition by gathering together with layers of warm clothes, snacks and drinks, birding equipment such as binoculars and scopes, cameras and tripods and, of course, a bird book or two — all in an effort to count birds. Yes, it’s true that the Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on bird population trends and that scientists glean valuable information from that data. But, tens of thousands of participants know that it is also a lot of fun. Data from more than 2,300 count circles nationwide are entered after the count and become available online.

It’s not too late to become a CBC volunteer, and one of the easiest ways is to agree to count birds at your feeders. You’ll need a bird checklist, and you’ll need to record the time you spend watching.

The other necessity is that you turn in your count information promptly so that it can be tallied along with all the other data. It’s painless — and also a very valuable service.

Contact Dottie George at 731-5759 to get all the details about feeder watching. Or, if you’re really enthusiastic, call Dottie so she can assign you to a team. This is a great way to learn about local birds and to make some new friends in the bargain.

This story was posted on December 12, 2013.