Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Bird Count

I should probably fact check before I start writing, but I don't feel like it. Anyway, on Saturday I participated in the 120th(ish) Audubon Christmas Bird Count. These counts are done all over the country (I know of 4 separate counts in my general area- areas don't overlap) and then the numbers are tallied to get a good idea of the overall bird populations. Basically, you count and classify every bird you see from your recorded starting time to recorded ending time. Peoria is divided into 7 areas that cover a 15 mile radius from the center of town. Only two of the areas were actually in the city and the rest were in surrounding towns and rural areas. The area I counted was bordered by War Memorial Drive on the south, the river on the east, Route 6 on the west and near Dunlap on the north. We spent a lot of time hiking Forest Park Nature Center and also made several stops at golf courses, Detweiller Park, Rock Island Trail, schools, driving through neighborhoods, etc. We also made several stops along the river, but our stretch of river is wide and open and not much of a bird sanctuary. We saw several bald eagles, but only three ducks, a few gulls and a lone Canada goose.

We started out at the Forest Park Nature Center parking lot at 5:45am. The idea was to play owl calls and try to attract owls to the lighted parking lot where we could actually see them. Unfortunately, there was so much traffic noise it didn't work. We moved on to Detweiller Park and tried the same thing. We attracted one barred owl that we actually saw. We tried for great horned owls at the Mt. Hawley golf course, but they had delivery trucks and a very loud garbage truck and we got no results. Oh well, even one owl is pretty cool!

By this time it was starting to get light so we stopped at Panera for breakfast while we waited for the birds to come out. We then started counting every bird we saw. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to identify half the birds, but I was wrong. We didn't see one bird I couldn't ID. It seems our winter selection of birds in town is not that diverse. Our highest numbers went to chickadees, juncos, ring-billed gulls, starlings and rock pigeons. We saw dozens of downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, along with dozens of nuthatches and house sparrows. There were some cardinals and goldfinches scattered in, but even hiking miles through FPNC, we didn't see a huge diversity of sparrows. Probably our highlight was a huge group of 61 turkeys. That was pretty fun to watch!

One thing I learned and was very surprised about is how rare red-headed woodpeckers and flickers have become. As a child watching feeder birds, those were the only woodpeckers I knew. Red-headed woodpeckers made a nest in the wooden paneling right at the head of my bed and then had a bunch of noisy babies. I'm pretty sure they used that nest at least two years. I saw red-headed woodpeckers all the time. Flickers, too! During the count we were specifically watching for these guys (along with pileated) and didn't see ANY.

All told, we were out birding for 9 1/2 hours. It was a long day, but very fun and I learned a lot. I will try to do the Peoria count every year. This year was excellent because it was relatively warm- never below the upper 20s and up to nearly 40F by the time we quit. I was still so cold when I got home I didn't think I'd ever get warm. Last year was 10F and I can't imagine doing what we did in those conditions!

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