Christmas Bird Count

One of my favorite winter birds--I love to hear their song when I walk the dogs.

One of my favorite winter birds–I love to hear their song when I walk the dogs.

This was a somewhat rare sighting at Audubon Acres--I have a much easier time shooting them at Renaissance.

This was a somewhat rare sighting at Audubon Acres–I have a much easier time shooting them at Renaissance.

Not 100% sure, but I think this was a yellow-rumped warbler flying away.

Not 100% sure, but I think this was a yellow-rumped warbler flying away.

The only thing better than a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is two of them.

The only thing better than a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is two of them.

I love these birds.  Just a great name.

I love these birds. Just a great name.

I’ve always wanted to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, but never really understood how it worked.  Every year, the National Audubon Society sponsors a Christmas Bird Count.  Each area organizes a specific day for participants to count birds.

The idea is to collect data on how many birds of each species seen are present in a given area at Christmas time.  Counts are scheduled from early December through January–I don’t know of any that actually happened on Christmas Day.  Ironically, the name of the event always prevented me from participating–I assumed the Christmas Bird Count happened on Christmas Day and I wouldn’t be able to join.

This year, because I’ve been volunteering for the Chattanooga Audubon Society, I learned that I didn’t have to count birds on Christmas Day to be part of the event.  In Chattanooga, the count was scheduled on December 15th.

The most challenging part about the count (other than getting any decent photos) was trying not to double count birds.  We walked around Audubon Acres for 3 hours before I had to leave.  It was pretty tough to ensure the Eastern Towhee we heard on one part of the property wasn’t the same Eastern Towhee following us to another part of the property.

The guidelines are clear for counting at a feeder.  You only count the maximum number of a particular type of bird you see at one time.  That way, you know you’re not counting the same bird over and over as it returns to feed.

Because we were roaming over 4 miles of trails, we had to try to segregate areas in the hope that the birds were staying on one part of the property.  For birds that we saw few of, that was a little clearer than birds that were everywhere.

I can’t remember ever seeing so many Flickers in one day.  There are either hundreds of Flickers at Audubon Acres or we were being stalked by a group of 5-10 of them.

I discovered several things during the Christmas Bird Count.  First, I really need to get back in the habit of hiking every weekend.  I felt like it was a desperately needed breath of fresh air to get back outside after many weeks of neglecting that part of my life.

Second, there is something wrong with my brain that makes me see only similarities and not differences.  The problem is worsened when the light is bad.  I was mistaking bluebirds for robins.  That’s not good.  They’re not even close to the same size–even in silhouette they can be distinguished.  But, I would see red on the breast and automatically go to Robin even though there are as many Eastern Bluebirds at Audubon Acres as there are Northern Flickers.

Finally, 400mm is not enough for shooting song birds.  Although, I was very pleased with the shot of the two Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (it’s cropped).  Now I just need to win the lottery to get a 600mm lens.

 

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