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VC Christmas Bird Count Starts Dec. 19

December 11, 2012

Jean Legge/Special to the Times-Record Songbirds like this common redpoll photographed at Valley City are expected to be seen during next week’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Valley City’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Valley City Wetland Management District office is looking for Valley City and Barnes County residents to participate in a Christmas Bird Count Wednesday, Dec. 19, said Terry Gwilliams, range technician.

Valley City’s count will be part of a national effort from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, when tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission to find birds. For more than 100 years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the holiday season.

Gwilliams said he expects the birds counted around Valley City to be “mostly songbirds and some raptors with a few ducks and geese.”

Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear. It’s not just a species tally ― all birds are counted, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. If observers live within a CBC circle, they may arrange in advance to count the birds at their feeders and submit those data to their compiler.

“We’ve been doing the (Valley City) circle for many years now,” Gwilliams said, but this year he hopes for greater participation from county and city residents.

“Going this route is new – (in past years) we got a few locals who came out. (This year) it is open to anyone who wants to participate,” Gwilliams said.

Nationally, the citizen scientists who annually brave snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count make an enormous contribution to conservation. The National Audubon Society and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.

“Amateurs are fine,” Gwilliams said, adding, “They don’t even have to know what a bird looks like – we’ll pair them up with somebody who knows more.”

The main requirement will be “they have to own their own vehicle,” Gwilliams said.

Anyone that would like to volunteer for the 2012 count should call Gwilliams at the District office at 845-3466. Gwilliams said those interested in helping with the count should be at the district office by 8 a.m. The office is located on River Road on the Valley City National Fish Hatchery property. For more information about the CBC or for other count locations and dates interested people can go to www.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count harnesses volunteer power to gather knowledge that shapes conservation policy at enormous scales in this country. More than 60,000 volunteers contribute to the CBC each year. This is the largest, longest-running animal census on the planet.

Last year’s nationwide count broke past records. A total of 2,248 counts and 63,223 people tallied more than 60 million birds. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, plus 99 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. In Colombia, the Christmas Bird Count is a crucially important monitoring system of biodiversity in the country.

The count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which evolved into Audubon magazine) suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most small game, including birds. Chapman proposed that people count birds instead.

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