Last weekend I participated in the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. What a treat! Originally I was hesitant because of my beginner skill level, but was assured all skill levels are welcome and I’m happy I participated.
I was shocked when I learned the history of the census. The holiday tradition started in response to what was called a “side hunt” where people went out and shot as many mammals and birds as they could find, and the “winner” was who killed the most. Heartbreaking (and infuriating…).
Bird populations declined, and the concept of conservation emerged. We can thank early Audubon ornithologist Frank Chapman for proposing a “Christmas Bird Census” to count rather than kill birds beginning on Christmas day 1900. More about this fascinating bit of history here. And here.
On January 3, 2015 our group of 12 volunteers spotted 71 different species in Area 1; the entire Columbian riparian area totaled 108 species.
Portland’s 89th Christmas count is still being tallied (I’ll update), but per my insider information from Wink Gross, CBC compiler:
“The 89th Portland CBC was held today in chilly weather under overcast skies (i.e., “fog that you walk under”). Over 230 field observers found 118 species, significantly below our 5-year running average of 124 and change. The best bird was a PELAGIC CORMORANT, which is a new species for the Count and earned Adrian Hinkle the coveted “Eagle Eye Award”. (Adrian also shared the award with his brother Christopher in 2009 for a Black-billed Magpie.) Congratulations, Adrian!
Other good birds were, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, RED-NECKED GREBE, COMMON TEAL (aka “Eurasian Green-winged Teal”), GLAUCOUS GULL, and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD. There were no howling misses, but many of the species that “could go either way” went the wrong way.”
Wink mentions Adrian and Christopher Hinkle, who I met on the bird count. They are twins who are celebrities in the birder community. Their eye-sight, speed, attention to detail is incredible. According to an Oregonian article the boys have had an interest in birding since they were 5. They’re ~18 now and have evolved into birding savants.
Birding with experts blew my mind, and it was also exhilarating (to have the answers to the puzzles right next to you!). I saw way more birds than I would have on my own and I learned so much. To share the joy of birding with others who feel the same passion was refreshing and I look forward to joining more group birding experiences.
I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally would (busy counting birds!):
Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the TWO GREAT HORNED OWLS we saw! A major highlight of my day. As a consolation, I have this video of a great blue heron ice-skating on a frozen pond:
Total new-to-me species I personally witnessed during the CBC:
Great Horned Owl
So thankful to be a part of this awesome event. Here is an Audubon Magazine article with highlights: 7 Surprises from the Christmas Bird Count