Volunteers sought to help with Audubon’s 119th Christmas Bird Count this season

December 19, 2018

NORTHERN HILLS — Each Christmas season, tens of thousands of volunteers count and record each individual bird and bird species they encounter during one calendar day, within a 15-mile diameter circle. This year, the 119th Audubon Christmas Bird Count will mobilize over 72,000 volunteer bird counters in more than 2,500 locations across the Western Hemisphere, including in this area.

Birders of all ages are welcome to contribute to this nationwide citizen science project, which provides ornithologists with a crucial snapshot of native bird populations during the winter months. The volunteers break up into small parties and will follow assigned routes, which change little from year to year, counting every bird they see. Beginning birders, on most counts, will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. Feeder watchers and backyard watchers are needed, too.

Mary Beth and Greg Albrechtsen, of Spearfish, participated in the count Saturday near Sturgis. Mary Beth has participated in the local counts twice, and Greg, three times.

“It’s kind of interesting to go more than one year, and then you can kind of see the trend of the birds,” Mary Beth Albrechtsen said, describing that every once in a while, a rare bird is spotted, often linked to climatic events, such as a snowstorm that pushes birds farther south than they are normally spotted.

“So sometimes we have some species that are from Canada that will come down into South Dakota,” she said.

The Albrechtsens encouraged anyone with an interest in birds to participate.

Participants should bring lunch, drinking water, warm clothing, and footwear. Binoculars, field guides, and spotting scopes are suggested, for those who have them. It is free to participate and the annual published report, American Birds, previously available in paper, has been made digital at http://birds.audubon.org/american-birds-annual-summary-christmas-bird-count.

Volunteers interested in helping have options of locations. On Wednesday, a group will leave from Piedmont. Call Gene Hess at (606) 791-0630 and leave a message for more information. Participants can also meet at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 at the West side Rapid Stop Conoco in Sundance, Wyo. For more information about this count location, contact Jennifer Adams at (307) 290-0457. Another options for participants is to meet at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 at D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish for territory assignments. For more information, contact Daniel Bjerke at (605) 381-0493.

Albrechtsen said that after receiving assignments, the participants head to their various locations and go until it gets dark, at which point they regroup to compile the counts of each species. If participants cannot spend the whole day at the count, they are still welcome to participate for as long as they are able, though they may need to drive their own vehicle so they can leave whenever they need to.

Depending on the location, participants may hike some trails, and in other events, they drive along various country roads, trying to cover as much area as possible.

“It was fun,” Albrechten said. “You get to meet new people. I think it is people who are interested in birds or have a passion for birds, because you do talk a lot about birds during the count, but for anyone who’s even wanting to learn, if they want to go out for two to four hours, they’re more than welcome to go.”

She described that volunteers are more than willing to teach people about specific birds and habitats during the count, and she added that it’s a good way for birders new to the area to connect with other birders.

“We sure could use more of the younger crowd coming out; that would be great,” she said.

To see locations of all counts: https://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=fadfb421e95f4949bde20c29a38228bd

There are 21 counts in South Dakota, as well as 22 in neighboring states. There are at least 11 Christmas Bird Counts in West River South Dakota and the Black Hills of Wyoming, nine of which will be official counts that contribute data to the National Audubon Society’s (NAS) database.

All counts take place this year between Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.

The censuses provide valuable data about the number of bird species and numbers of each species occurring within set geographic areas on an early winter day. The results are compiled into the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of unbroken data on trends of early-winter bird populations across the Americas. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count utilizes the power of volunteers to track the health of bird populations at a scale that scientists could never accomplish alone.

To date, over 300 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understanding how birds are responding to a changing climate. This documentation is what enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened as reported in Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Study. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.

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