A Job That Really Counts
While I have grown up with a healthy love of nature, often spending childhood afternoons in the woods, in my backyard, or on the beaches down the street, I somehow never got into the world of birding.We had bird feeders at my house, and sure, I knew the usual suspects—the black-capped chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. But beyond my cursory knowledge, I never paid much attention to them. That all changed after a morning spent tagging along with a small crew of birders involved in the Buzzards Bay Christmas Bird Count last December.
If you have never tried birding, here is why you should. First, the geography of our area—Cape Cod’s familiar hook-armed peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic—with our expanses of marshland, coastal inlets, and protected waters means that we are blessed with some of the best birding on the East Coast. Second, it is a new way to experience your surroundings, whether it be the forests, our backyard, or the beach—a place we have all been a zillion times but perhaps have never really seen (were there always that many birds in the water?). Third, you will discover hidden parts of the Cape you have never been to before.
The striking, wonderful thing about birding is that it is slow. You must move slowly. You must stop, wait, look around, and observe. It requires patience and time. Instead of bustling through the beach trails to work up a sweat and go as far as you can, birding asks instead that you stop and be quiet. In the process, you might find that you are examining the world in a much more detailed way—as you may never have before.
This year—2013—marks the 114th Christmas Bird Count, an annual event that takes place not only on the Cape, but across the country. Run by the National Audubon Society, it is considered the oldest citizen science project in existence. Every year, from December 14 through January 5, birders around North and South America organize groups and count circles, stay out all day, and literally count the number of species and individual birds they either see or hear. The event is open to anyone, no matter the experience or interest level—from the stay-at-home birders who stick to their backyards and bird feeders, to the devoted, competitive birders who participate in as many counts as their sleep patterns will allow (birding usually involves a very early morning).
With more than 100 years of bird population data, the Christmas Bird Count helps provide a long-term assessment of the status of bird populations. Changing numbers in a bird count can be the first warning sign to tip conservationists of a particular species’ decline. Researchers use bird count data to develop watch lists and track how bird behavior and patterns change over time.
There are several local counts that take place during the two-week window and they are organized geographically: Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod, Mid-Cape, Truro, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Plymouth. On any given count, that day’s coverage area is split into count circles, with each circle consisting of a 15-mile radius. The circles are split up with each participating team taking a part of the circle.