Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Forest Grove CBC: Join us December 17

From December 14 to January 5, birders at thousands of locations across the Americas will count early winter birds in prescribed areas from dawn to dusk. For over 100 years the National Audubon Society has sponsored these Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). Read the History of the Christmas Bird Count on the Audubon site.

In Forest Grove, Oregon, volunteers will meet at 7:00 AM on Saturday, December 17, 2011, at Elmer's Pancake House at 390 SW Adams (near the corner of First Street and Baseline Avenue) in Hillsboro, Oregon. There birders will be divided up into car groups and sent birding in one of 8 sectors of the count circle. Everyone should meet back at Elmer's about 5:00 PM where you turn in your count forms and count fees are collected (yes, $5 per person is collected to help defray publishing the data in a special issue of American Birds). You may stay for a count-down dinner (each person buys their own), where the species seen are informally tallied.

I started helping organize the Forest Grove CBC two years ago. I was guided by two thoughts. First, I was vacationing in Arizona one winter and decided to attend a count near Phoenix that regularly tallies nearly 200 species--many species I highly desired to see. However, I was assigned to a group in a rural area of cotton fields with very few birds. When we finished covering our area by noon? Our leader had us do it again, with very few additional birds. All the while, I could see the greenery along the nearby river with all the birds I so desired to see but which was "not our area." Second, I knew the Forest Grove area so well. At the countdown dinner I realized that the birds that were missed that day were not hard to find--in fact, I knew exactly what tree and bush or part of the stream these missing birds hung out in. I figured if each team concentrated on finding these hard-to-find, but usually present, birds, then the common birds would take care of themselves. Counts since implementing this idea 2 years ago have exceeded the high count of all previous years.

This led me to redesign the count in such a way that teams could cover their area fairly well by noon, and "poach" in other team's areas for good birds--just keep track of where you were. I recommend teams "poach" at Fernhill Wetlands or Jackson Bottom Wetlands during the day. There is a good turnover of waterfowl at these locations, and many other sparrows and smaller birds hiding in the marsh. I also divided up Hagg Lake into three sectors rather than one. The special resident birds here are hard to find and quiet, and found no where else in the count circle. To help in this regard, I created sector material for the sector leaders specifying each sector's target birds and where to find them.

This year Christmas Day falls on a weekend and, unlike the very first CBC, few counts these days are actually scheduled for Christmas Day. That means most counts will be either December 17 and 18th or December 31 and January 1. Forest Grove isn't one of the "glamor" counts in Oregon. So we'll have lots of competition for our volunteer counters.

My next post will tell you why you should join us and what you might see.