Pocahontas County Winter Bird Count Is December 16th, 2011
Mill Point, WV – For over a century, intrepid birding enthusiasts have braved the cold to count Chickadees, Nuthatches and Woodpeckers among others, for the National Audubon Society. They’ll be out doing it again on Friday, December 16th in Pocahontas County as part of the Christmas Bird Count. West Virginia ornithologist Rich Bailey oversees the annual count in Elkins and Pocahontas.
“We’re in the 112th year of doing [the] Christmas Bird Count,” says Bailey. “And from its origins with just a few counts, it’s now almost a global affair; obviously there are probably more counts done in the United States and Canada than other places around the world, but there are counts going on in Ecuador now, Central America, Europe and other places.”
Bailey says during a three week period including Christmas and into early January, the goal is not only to count how many species of birds, but also how many birds of each species that is catalogued.
“The counts are organized into what are called circles,” says Bailey. “Circles are just that; you have a center point, and then there’s an area that surrounds that center point. In the case of the Pocahontas count for example, the center point is at the intersection of Rt 219 and 39 down in Mill Point. From that circle the areas that are included are Hillsboro, up on Cranberry Glades, Marlinton along the Greenbrier River trail there, etc.”
Bailey says similar circles are spread out all over the country and the world, and all are approximately 15 miles in diameter. Each circle has a coordinator whose job it is to organize volunteers for the actual count which is usually a very sociable affair.
“Pretty much birders will spend all day out during the day of the count and they’ll reconvene at midday for lunch and that’ll be kind of a potluck, and then they’ll head back out,” he says. “That enables folks to kind of check in and see where they’ve been and make sure that as much of the territory is being covered as possible. It’s a lot of fun; every time you go out there’s something that surprises you. But the real goal of the Christmas Bird Count is really it’s a big science experiment.”
He says while the data collected each year is important, it’s what the Audubon Society does with that data that really matters.
“Over the 112 years as more and more circles have been added, compilers/circle leaders will send their data to Audubon,” he says, “and Audubon will then analyze the data and from that actually get a kind of snapshot in time of a good estimate of the state of the entire bird population of the United States and other areas if there are enough circles. So it’s a really big deal. And it’s done in winter time because its focus is mostly our winter residence birds.”
Bailey says he’d prefer intermediate to advanced birders, but newbies are welcome too. They’ll meet at the Barnett cabins in Millpoint at 7am Friday morning. Tune in for noon hour on Thursday to learn more about why the count is critical to monitoring bird populations and their habitats.