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MPFN Xmas Bird Count


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Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists will be the local hosts for the 120th Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Started in 1900, the Christmas Bird Count is North America's longest-running Citizen Science project. Counts happen in over 2000 localities throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world's largest sets of wildlife survey data. The results are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds.

Each Christmas Bird Count is conducted on a single day between Sat. December 14, 2019 and Sun. January 5, 2020. The counts take place in an established 24km diameter circle and are organized by local count compilers, often representing local birding clubs or naturalist organizations. Our long-serving Christmas Bird Count Compiler and Coordinator is David Schandlen. Count volunteers follow specified routes, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It's not just a species tally - all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.

If your home is within the boundaries of our circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your feeder on count day as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler. Our 24km circle centres on the community of Wyebridge, so if you're within 12 km of there you're in the loop.

If you would like to participate in the local CBC, contact our MPFN Xmas Bird Count coordinator David Schandlen 705 526 8320 schandlen@simcoe.net 705 526-8320 by Dec. 4, 2019. David will have a sign-up sheet available as well at our General Meeting on Thurs. Nov. 21st at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre.

Bird-watching expertise is not required and all are welcome. Remember we need spotters, IDers and counters. The more eyes the better. Dave will divide volunteers up into teams that will each cover a section of the count circle. The team leaders will then arrange a starting time and a meeting point for their group. Most teams start in the early morning (sunrise on the 15th is 7:50 AM) and continue, with a lunch break into mid-afternoon. (Sunset on the 15th is 4:39 PM). Even if you can only volunteer for part of the day your participation is encouraged.

Here's a link to an interesting article that interviews Geoff LeBaron, the man who organizes the Bird Count for the Audubon Society in the US. https://www.audubon.org/…/meet-heart-and-soul-americas-olde…

Some great thoughts in the article about the scientific value of the work we do counting birds every December. I'll quote some of the article here:

When LeBaron joined Audubon, it didn’t take long to realize that not everyone saw as much value in the count as he did. Historically, scientists have bristled at the idea of using data collected from non-experts. Time and again, he heard from ornithologists and biologists that there was no way to ensure that a volunteer in Boston was counting birds in the same way as one in Houston or had the same skill as another in Denver.

It wasn’t so much dismaying as it was frustrating. While LeBaron understood scientists’ concerns, he never believed they had much merit. The best thing about the Christmas Bird Count method, he says, is that it doesn’t matter if there are variations in how bird counts are done in different locations, so long as “I do my count my way every year and the people in Houston do their count their way every year.” As a whole, he emphasized to skeptics, the CBC is tuned to show trends––the changes in one place, over time.

As years on the job turned to decades, LeBaron also had to push for the Christmas Bird Count itself to evolve and change over time. He embraced technology and transformed the count from an analog operation that resulted in a 700-page paper publication each year into a streamlined digital database that’s available to anyone interested. It wasn’t the easiest undertaking, he says, as he had to convince thousands of mostly older compilers to abandon paper and pencil and log into a new digital world. “It took quite a bit of coercing and cajoling and begging,” he half jokes. During this initial digital transition, he often dealt with customer service complaints of people forgetting their passwords or struggling with the site. “Now the customer service calls we get are, ‘why don’t you have this ready for me yet,” LeBaron says.

The more accessible and transparent the data became, the more the scientific community trusted it. Take Ray Telfair, a biologist who spent years at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and now is helping update the Birds of North America entries for Neotropic Cormorant and Cattle Egret—two species that he’s been tracking for more than 20 years. Though he has long relied on the Christmas Bird Count data, he remained skeptical of it. “In the back of your mind you’re always wondering if it’s an actual trend or an artificial trend given all the potential variables,” he says. But recently Telfair did a deeper study comparing roughly 40 years of Cattle Egret data from the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey, run by the United States Geological Survey every spring. When both were graphed, Telfair says, they almost superimposed themselves. To have two different data sets tell the same story wasn’t just a coincidence—it was evidence of the quality of the counts, he says.

It’s these types of success stories that delight LeBaron and compel him year after year to lead one of the largest and longest-running community science programs in history. While he’s not a boastful man—the only thing he brags about throughout the day is that he managed to put 440,000 miles on his old Chevy Citation—LeBaron does puff up with pride when pointing out that approximately 700 peer-reviewed studies have now been published using Christmas Bird Count data, not to mention Audubon’s landmark “Birds and Climate Change” report.

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