Audubon’s 113th Christmas bird count is taking place through January 5th. Jon and I were honored to be among the participants counting birds this past Saturday in Floyd Bennett Field.
Not only were we in the company of renowned New York birders, like Rob from City Birder, and saw birds we’d never imagined to visit Brooklyn, we were taking part in a very important action for wildlife conservation in our own great city.
According to the Audubon website:
Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.
“Are you sure they want us? I mean – we don’t know anything!” I kept asking Jon the week before. But by the end of the day, we’d learned a lot and I hope that in 40 years I have the stamina, patience and a hat with my name on it, like our trip leader Ron, who soldiered us through the day with an endless supply of information and energy. This will not be our first and only bird count.
It was confusing at first, the quick identifications in the cricket field, where we were looking for a flock of Horned Lark made my head spin. I kept elbowing Jon, “what are we looking at?” Bird names shouted, binoculars flew and just as I’d focus, the bird had flown away and the team had moved on.
They made funny sshhhing noises at the bushes, calls for an infinite number of sparrows that all looked like little brown birds that morning but by the end of the day I’d know a Tree Sparrow if I saw one.
When we all lined up along a big field in formation with 30 yards between us each and walked together across the field, I had no idea at all what we were doing until a Woodcock flew out of the brush and was identified in flight. We were flushing ground nesting birds out. That was cool.
Seeing a kestrel in Brooklyn, doing it’s signature tail bobbing was surreal. As was see a flock of Cedar Waxwings and learning they share berries with one another.
The most exciting search and my proudest moment was in the pine forest, looking for owls, who are best found by looking down for their pellets, which is white vomit that contains undigested matter like bones and teeth. While I didn’t spot a Saw-Whet, the tiny fist sized owl we were straining our eyes to see, right in front of my nose I spotted a dead field mouse in the crotch of a tree branch. It was the spookiest sighting, but a common practice among these owls, who literally do all their grocery shopping on the weekends, and kill a bunch of mice and string them along the trees to enjoy days later. (See a Saw-whet Owl at Peter Colen’s website.)
Before we enjoyed a lunch of onion rings, hot dogs and pizza at the food court, we headed back to the cricket field and there they were, those Horned Larks we hadn’t seen that morning in the foreground, with a rarely seen Lapland Longspur, who traveled down from the arctic with them, in the background a bunch of Flickers and overhead a Peregrine Falcon and a Red Tailed Hawk Circled.
While we left with our pockets filled with all sorts of interesting finds, the real treasure we took home was an incredible day of learning and making new friends, all while participating in a time honored tradition in wildlife conservation. Until next year.