On a mild(er) day during the holidays, nine winter hearty Young Naturalist Club (YNC) members helped contribute to an important continent-wide citizen science project, counting birds for the long-standing, annual, continent-wide Christmas Bird Count. Our group was coached by George Forsythe, retired teacher, avid birder and member of the Blomidon Naturalists Society (BNS) – http://blomidonnaturalists.ca/. We want to thank the BNS for helping make this event possible and for their own 30+ year dedication to various bird counts – they organise annual migration counts, raptor counts, nest counts and swift counts, to name just some of the counting they do.
The Christmas Bird Count, started in 1900, is North America’s longest-running Citizen Science project and arguably the most wide-spread, with counts taking place in over 2000 locations throughout the continent. According to Bird Studies Canada (http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/ ), “results are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds.” This year the YNC put Berwick on the map.
It was a good morning to be out – not so frigidly cold as it had been the days before and after and very little wind. We met at the Berwick Legion on Main Street and received a backgrounder from George on the Bird Count and its importance for tracking the state of bird populations over more than a century. We were excited to be able to play our part in this critical work. George also gave us an essential tutorial on how to use binoculars and several of us not-so-young naturalists learned about our dominant eye and how to account for it in setting the field glasses.
We then ventured outside where we practised some pssshing and were soon rewarded with our first sighting: a few Chick-a-dees. The first 10 minutes in the parking lot, despite a few Chick-a-dees and some chips in the bushes, seemed to be rather quiet (and boring for some) but we all learned that good things come to those who wait…. soon we had spotted a number of Song Sparrows, more Chick-a-dees, a few American Goldfinches and heard a Cardinal. A good start for a group with limited to no birding experience. No doubt George’s keen eyes, ears and years of experience helped us hone in on many of the birds.
We walked from the Legion east along Main Street to the sewage ponds where we had permission to walk around. On route, we saw a number of Crows, Mourning Doves and Blue Jays and a single Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker as well as a White-breasted Nuthatch. At the ponds, we spotted Mallard and Black Ducks, several Rock Doves (pigeons), saw more Song Sparrows and watched in anticipation as a Bald Eagle and two Crows flew past. Watching that scene, which ended with the eagle flying off with something the Crows had had (a chicken foot perhaps), we heard a Pheasant in the bushes but were unable to spot it.
As we turned to leave we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk pestering some Pigeons. On the way back we saw most of the same birds and ended our outing with a tally of all we had seen back at the Legion hall. In all we saw 21 different species and counted 95 individual birds. As first-timers, we all felt really good about the diversity we had encountered and the things we learned along the way. And then we enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies!! I’m already looking forward to next year and establishing an annual counting tradition amongst the young naturalists and their families in Berwick.