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In the last post I mentioned the annual Christmas Count; a bird count within a circle. This is an annual occurrence in over 2500 locations today. In 1900 the tradition of a Christmas “side shoot” was first confronted by a noire passive activity; the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). During the past 120 years the CBC has pretty much replaced the side-shoot. Much of the USA is covered by these 15 mile diameter circles and birders of all stripes patrol the lakes, ponds, woods, fields, streets, seas, and developments within the scribed area. National Audubon Society oversees this massive citizen-science project and the data is largely available just by Googling.
That is all well and good; good for nature, good for birds, good for planning; it is even fun and social. The weather varies year to year but the enthusiasm and repetition prevail. But counting is easy only when you use your fingers and maybe toes. A quick flight of Razorbills or sandpipers happens in a flash and the most experienced people will have wildly different counts (estimates) of the number of birds that just passed by. Even a slow moving flock of Canada Geese can be hard to count. Rarely do birds pass by slowly and with space between them. And even if they do, it can be hard to count them.
Ducks on a pond or eider on the sea will bounce, dive, and paddle to a frustrating degree. Learning to estimate and extrapolate is a skill born of practice. Let’s take a look at some flocks, flights, and floats. Try to estimate the number in a few seconds, then count a representative section and multiply and try a second number – for the most obsessive of you, take the time to actually count the birds. This is best done by printing out the image and then ticking off the birds as you count them on paper. I will give the answers at the end of the post – so get ready….
Looking at large groups of birds requires some planning and quick counting. If there are three people in a group everyone should try to develop a number and then discuss estimates and arrive at a best guess. Exact numbers are not possible in many cases while in the field.
So that’s what we do; only a lot of it is counting birds at feeders and in bushes and walking through snow or slush. But getting good numbers of Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Cardinals isn’t that easy either. How many can you list when you have already seen two woodpeckers with red feathering on their heads? Some birds, like Northern Cardinals, are pretty easy as they often just sit out as if waiting to be counted, others flit or hide and make accurate numbers difficult.
Here are the numbers from the images: there are 202 Sanderling in the first picture with the 2 Purple Sandpipers; there are 204 Snail Kites in the air in Brazil; and there are 37 Laughing Gulls in the 65 birds in the last image. By the way the top three birds in that last picture are actually Common Terns, not gulls at all. My counts are certainly close but I cannot guarantee them to be exact… close for sure though. There are 31 Great Black-backed Gulls and two Herring Gulls in the image used as a heading, or lead, at the top of the post…..Cheers.