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Audubon Society seeks birdwatchers for Christmas count

December 2, 2018

HARLINGEN — Just like the objects of their study, identifying and counting birds has evolved, too.

The Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count in the Harlingen area will be held Jan. 5, a century-old event which began as an alternative to a common 19th-century practice of a holiday bird hunt to kill as many species as possible.

Appalled by the indiscriminate killing of even non-game bird species, in 1900 ornithologist Frank Chapman originated the idea of counting, not killing, and the first Christmas Bird Count commenced.

“ The Christmas Bird Count is done within a 17-mile circle with the center being right behind the Valley Morning Star near the railroad track,” said Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society. “It includes San Benito and the west side of Rio Hondo.

“ The count started in 1900 and is nationwide and growing internationally,” she added via email. “There are nine circles in the Rio Grande Valley. None are done on the same day so birders have a chance to do as many as they care to.”

The bird count for the Harlingen area runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The counters on that day are broken up into nine four-person field teams, which will scour their assigned Harlingen-area territory as well as “feeder watchers” who can identify and compile lists of birds coming into their yards.

“ The Harlingen Christmas Bird Count is in need of some experienced birders for diverse areas with a wide variety of birds and habitat that sometimes requires effort,” Friedrich said. “Less-experienced birders or even beginners are welcome to complete the teams. Four on a team is ideal for the maximum eyes on birds.

“ Also needed are feeder watchers who contribute greatly to our area being represented to its fullest,” she added.

To volunteer for a team or as a feeder watcher, call Mark Conway at 956-412-6631 or Friedrich at 361-676-6416.

The local Audubon chapter says volunteers aren’t necessarily expected to put in a full 12-hour day but any help over the course of the time allotted is appreciated. “If you can identify five birds out of 20, those are five correctly identified birds that we would not otherwise have,” the group said in another email.

For feeder watchers, the count doesn’t include the total number of birds of a single species seen in an entire day, since many of these will be repeat visitors, coming and going at seed feeders, suet feeders or bird baths.

Instead, the Audubon group says, only the highest number of individuals of any species seen at one time should be counted.

“ For example, when watching a feeder over the course of a day, if six black-crested titmice are seen all at once, then leave, two more appear, then leave and later two individual titmice visit the feeder, the number of black-crested titmice that you count for the day is six, not 10.”

Following the day of birding, a Count Down Dinner will be held for participants.

For answers to questions about the Christmas Bird Count and how to participate, call Friedrich or contact the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society chapter via email at acaskiskadee@yahoo.com

rkelley@valleystar.com

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