Diario del proyecto Rock Cut Christmas Bird Count

20 de agosto de 2022

Christmas Bird Count Tips: Owling

If you've never gone out at night to look for birds, then you need to to add that to your to-do list. Even if you don't find anything it's a great experience. Especially if this is a site you are familiar with, it's amazing how different it looks and feels. One thing I always find weird is how everything looks two-dimensional at night: you look at a line of trees and it looks like you could just step through it, during the day you can see that's it's a thick woods.

Some tips:
Try to go to areas that you are somewhat familiar with, I have hit sites cold but I don't recommend that, as I said places look and feel different at night and if you got hurt in a place that you're not familiar with it might be hard to guide people to you.

One great thing about owling on a CBC is how much night you have to work with, sunup isn't until 7:00-7:30, and sundown is about 5:00-5:30. So you don't have to be in the field at 2:00 AM (unless you want to try and hit several sites).

Pre-dawn is better then after-dark. A lot fewer people are driving and a lot fewer lights are on before 7:00 AM then after 5:30 PM, this is especially true in a more urban setting. I prefer to hit all of my good spots in the morning and just use the after dark as a back-up in case I didn't find anything before dawn.

If you have calls, use them but understand that when birds are singing, this is a territorial thing. You are not "talking" with the owl, you are challenging him for territory (as an aside, no, he won't attack you, territory control is more of a debate, who calls the longest. If you win, he might leave, and you will have lost an owl in future). Once you get a response, stop calling, let him win.

Most owls love a grove of pines, mark where those are in your scouting. If you have a large prairie near a river, try to be there around dusk or dawn to look for Short-eared Owls especially if you've seen harriers in that prairie during the day (see scouting https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/57237-christmas-bird-count-tips-scouting)

When doing a Christmas Bird Count, the day of the count has been planned for months and likely has been the same for years or decades, so you don't have much control over the weather or the moon, but if it is a full moon with no wind and no cloud cover then you are in the best position to get owls. However, I have also scored on windy days during snow.

Publicado el 20 de agosto de 2022 a las 10:49 AM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

04 de julio de 2022

First ten years of the Rock Cut Christmas Bird Count

After the 10th count, I made iNaturalist projects for those and thecount summaries are on their respective journals.

Inaugural Count 12/14/08
2nd Count 1/3/10
3rd Count 12/19/10
4th Count 12/28/11
5th Count 12/26/12
No Count for year 114
6th Count 12/27/14
7th Count 1/2/16
8th Count 12/26/16
9th Count 12/27/17
10th Count 12/26/18

Publicado el 04 de julio de 2022 a las 12:01 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Christmas Bird Count Tips

A common mistake that is often made by people first getting into Christmas Bird Counts is only focusing on the forest preserves and parks in their territory and ignoring everything else. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of really good birds get missed and people think that the territory they got is "boring". These tips are intended to help see your territory in a new light, and maybe find a new hotspot that you didn't know was there.

Count Week
Hedge Rows
Birding in Groups
Underappreciated sites: Neighborhoods
Underappreciated sites: Golf Courses
Private Property
Roadside Birding
Feeder Watching
Top Ten Tips

Publicado el 04 de julio de 2022 a las 11:50 AM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

27 de diciembre de 2021

Christmas Bird Count Tips: Count Week

When you join a Christmas Bird Count, you are joining a one day count with the main goal being to find as many birds as possible in a 15 mile diameter circle in one day of searching.

However, if you want to have some extra fun you can add in Count Week. Count Week is the three days preceding and the three days following the day of the count. The differences here are you are only looking for birds that no one saw on count day, and you don't tally numbers, just presence in the circle.

I like to make use of the three days prior to count day for scouting (see scouting https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/57237-christmas-bird-count-tips-scouting), if I see an interesting species that isn't there on the day of the count, I've got it as a back-up. For the three days following, you can run out to grab things that you didn't see on count day.

Most of the time, I wouldn't worry about common birds that you see in count week, but I did do a CBC once where no one reported any gulls on Count day, so a Count Week Ring-billed Gull would have been welcome. So feel free to keep track of what you see during Count Week and when the compiler sends out the count summery, look for things that aren't on there that you could add.

Publicado el 27 de diciembre de 2021 a las 01:12 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Tips: Hedgerows, all of them

I think most of us are fully aware that edge habitats and hedgerows are great places to look for birds, so this isn't some astounding revelation, it's more of a reminder.

Hedgerows are all over the place and are frequently allowed to grow up as a property boundary, look for ones where you have a big open space like corn field, mowed grass or prairie divided by a hedgerow, that will act like a funnel for where all of the birds will be. This can be right in town or in the country or in a natural area.

Some that I've found:
A couple of years ago in winter, I was giving someone rides to physical therapy and then since I had about an hour, I went birding around the hospital grounds. At a property boundary was a hedge next to a weedy grass field loaded with House Sparrows, Chickadees, Cardinals, Song Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, and I even got to witness a Sharp-shinned Hawk grab a Starling.
At a forest preserve on a CBC was a large grass prairie and then a corn field with a hedge dividing them, not much in there but there were American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrow, and a Field Sparrow.

A big one to remember here: if you were just going out birding or chasing, then some of those birds I mentioned really aren't that interesting, but if you're doing a Christmas Bird Count, then every single bird counts, and a hedge row filled with House Sparrows is still useful data. Plus you never know what might be mixed in with the sparrows.

Publicado el 27 de diciembre de 2021 a las 12:55 PM por neylon neylon | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Christmas Bird Count Tips: Scouting

After you have signed up for a count and are assigned your territory the next thing you need to do is scout the territory. You could go into a new territory cold, but you won't find nearly as much as if you scout it in advance.

1 Get historical intel
When you get a new territory, the compiler will in all likelihood give you some intel for the area on places to check and features that are present. Feel free to ask additional questions and also ask if you can talk to whoever had the territory before you. A couple of years back, I was moved to a new territory and the first thing I did was contact the previous counter who very kindly sent me a two page email filled with information about the area which was incredibly useful, especially since I couldn't get down to the area beforehand for any scouting.

2 Online Information
After you've got the map and acquired all information that you could get, the next step is to go online and research your area. Pull up Google Earth, eBird, and the websites for city parks, county forest preserves, state parks, and any other natural land groups in your area. I like to have a printout of the map and some markers, first I mark out any water (creeks, wetlands, ponds ect) with a blue marker) next any park or eBird hotspot with a green marker, remember at this point you want to mark every park even city neighborhood parks, they may look useless on google, but you'll know for sure when you check them.

3 Location Scouting
Last step is to actually go out and check it out prior to count day, I don't bother with the obvious bird hotspots like large forest preserves or eBird hotspots with more than 100 species, because I know I'm going there on count day and in all likelihood the compiler mentioned those sites as focal points for the area. Instead I'm going to check out those little parks, creeks, and see which neighborhoods have bird feeders or are in sheltered areas.

If you do your scouting in the three days prior to the count, then rare birds that you see might be added to the count week list (see count week https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/60788-christmas-bird-count-tips-count-week). Also remember that compilers usually like to keep people in the same territories year to year, so even on count day I'm thinking about what I'm finding and how I might change my route next year. I've had a few counts where I discovered a park that I didn't know about on the day of the count and factored that into my planning for the next year's count.

Publicado el 27 de diciembre de 2021 a las 12:53 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Birding in groups

When joining a bird count, you might be placed into a team or join with your own team. Teams are usually small, I've never seen one with more than four people and it's usually only two people. Being in a team has a number of advantages, like more pairs of eyes to notice things, safety, additional witnesses in the event of a rare bird, having the option of splitting up for large areas. It's especially handy for driving, having one or two passengers makes birding by car so much easier. One thing I've seen before with newer birders, is that they're afraid to join a count because they think they'll get in the way, if you're thinking that, join up and volunteer to hold the checklist and keep the tally. That is incredibly important (it's basically the reason everyone's out) and this way the experienced birders can keep eyes and ears up.

If you come to a large area and decide to split up, remember, you are now creating an extra team and need to track your time/miles split-up separately. Something people sometimes forget is that it is just as important to know how much time and how many miles were covered by how many teams as it is how many birds were found. Without that information, the bird data is worth significantly less.

I would say don't let your team get over four though, at that point you practically need two vehicles, and with a second vehicle, two people could make up a second team to go to another part of the circle.

When you are in a group it's perfectly alright to talk, but remember that the primary reason you're out is to find birds so if someone sees something then everyone stop talking and look for birds. Also this is not the time to bring up your favorite controversial opinion and it is entirely possible that the fun likable guy you're birding with doesn't agree with everything you believe. If you're unsure what to talk about, well how about birds, I would assume that you both like those. As a compiler I would be annoyed if a team turned in a low list because they spent two hours arguing about climate change.

One important thing to remember, if you are signing up for a count and are bringing your own team (spouse, friend, kids ect), tell the compiler that when you sign up.

What if you join a smaller count and don't get put into a team? This isn't necessarily a disadvantage, and if you're a bit competitive, this can be fun, to quote Kipling: "Down to Gehenna, or up to the Throne, he travels fastest who travels alone." Working solo allows you to be a little more decisive in how you work the circle in a way that would make you a bit of a jerk if you did that with a team. I've also found that I can have my route planned out more before hand. Something that I do when working solo which I've found to be useful is I don't stop for a lunch break, I take snacks that I eat over the course of the day, this gives me an extra half-an-hour or so to look for birds and means better coverage.

Working solo or in a group both have advantages and can both lead to a fun and successful count, they just have slightly different tactics to employ to be successful.

Publicado el 27 de diciembre de 2021 a las 12:35 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de octubre de 2021

Underappreciated sites: Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods are absolutely hopping with birds, but many people are hesitant to look for birds in neighborhoods for fear of looking creepy. Admittedly, describing someone driving slowly through a neighborhood peering into backyards with a pair of binoculars or camera, might be hard to make sound innocent.

However, neighborhoods often contain orchard pockets, garden plots, bird feeders, hedgerows, and are sometimes in sheltered ravines. Plus, unlike with roadside birding (see https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/56205-tips-roadside-birding) where you might have whole square miles that are not accessible due to lack of roads, neighborhoods are intersected and crisscrossed with so many side streets you'd be amazed at how much time you can spend exploring them. This is also handy if you have a creek running through; check every street that crosses the the creek. So they are definitely worth checking, but how do you make it less creepy?

First thing that helps, is get out and walk. Driving slowly through a neighborhood might look odd, but walking through doesn't look or feel near as creepy, plus you have better hearing.

Second thing: Bicycle. I think bikes are not used nearly enough on these counts anyway, but one of my best counts that had neighborhoods was one where I brought my bike and covered a large chunk of the territory. You move faster than on foot, which is good because you can cover a lot more area with all of the side streets, but you have better hearing and visibility than in a car.

Talk to people. I don't really like talking to people on count day (I've run into some real conversationalists when I'm trying to use as much of the day as possible counting birds,) but I have knocked on doors before to ask if I could stare into their backyard for a few minutes if they had a lot of birds. I prefer to do that when scouting for a count rather then the actual count though.

Publicado el 16 de octubre de 2021 a las 04:38 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Underappreciated sites: Golf Courses

In my opinion, golf courses are under-utilized by counters doing CBC's, due to the fact that they are large mostly mowed grass fields that don't look that interesting. However, I've never birded a golf course that I didn't turn up Great Horned Owls. They have water resources in the form of ponds and creeks, and hedge rows surrounding them (see https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/56285-tips-hedgerows-all-of-them). They often have berry bushes, meaning that they usually have Cedar Waxwings.

In 2020 I was asked to lead a couple of winter bird walks at a local golf course that I wasn't familiar with and had never been to. During the scouting trips I made, I was surprised by the variety of birds that turned up, including Belted Kingfisher, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird and a large number of the most photogenic Cedar Waxwings I've dealt with. The walks ended up being so popular that we did three and I had to recruit assistants because of how many people signed up.

Some golf courses are open in the winter for cross-country skiers. Please bear in mind, do not walk on the ski trails, that makes it harder to ski on them and doesn't foment feelings of good will towards birders.

If the golf course is not open during the winter, consider contacting them and requesting permission to look for birds (see https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rock-cut-christmas-bird-count/journal/56208-tips-private-property). You might be surprised by what is out there.

Publicado el 16 de octubre de 2021 a las 04:35 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Tips: Private Property

When given an area for a bird count, invariably most of it will be private property that you can't just go waltzing onto to look for birds just because you might have seen a Goshawk. So do you leave all this area uncounted? Well often yes; the compiler will have given you a large enough area that you will be plenty busy in the places that you can be without worrying about places that you can't.

However, this doesn't mean that you have to miss these spots. There is a very simple solution for this: ask permission. I know a guy who gets some of his best finds at a closed kids summer camp, because he contacted the owners and asked if he could count there. The same guy contacted a plant nursery and got their permission to wander around their property. One time I was doing a new count (for me) and saw a huge flock of birds fly into a backyard with a privacy fence, I knocked on the door to ask if I could look in their backyard, and surprise, it was one of my customers. Their yard became a great go-to spot in future years.

As long as you're respectful of people's property and their privacy (don't put an eBird pin right on their house for the Northern Hawk Owl you found without their permission), you'd be amazed at how many more places you can get opened up to you. By the way, if you do get into some private areas, then let the compiler know that you may need a smaller area in order to still get adequate coverage.

The same goes for sites that are seasonally closed, for the Rock Cut CBC for example, many of our sites are closed for the winter, but we got permission from the conservation district to enter those sites on count day, if you do this, I would recommend that you get a letter that you can display on your dashboard which police would see if they get called by a neighbor.

As an aside, if you get permission to go onto an otherwise restricted property, consider keeping a separate list of birds and giving it to the owner afterwards, in most cases you will have birds on there that they've never heard of, and that can get people excited, meaning that they may want you back next year, or you might make a new birder out of them.

Publicado el 16 de octubre de 2021 a las 04:34 PM por neylon neylon | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario