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Volunteers help count birds on Delmarva - January 5, 2012

"Four calling doves, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree," well, let's make that four calling owls, three buffleheads, two mourning doves, and a woodpecker in a holly tree.

While many people across Delmarva were enjoying the holidays with their friends and family, with trees, boughs of holly, and carols in the background, some carved out time to enjoy -- and count -- birds, in a very official way.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) canvassing Delmarva to account for every species and, as best as possible, every individual bird they saw.

It's citizen science in action.

According to the National Audubon Society, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas participate in the count, annually. This year marks the 112th Christmas Bird Count, which ran from Dec. 14, 2011 through Jan. 5, 2012.

Whether from the warm comfort of their living room, watching birds at feeders in their yard, or bundled in layers of clothing while perched atop the jetty at the Ocean City inlet, local volunteers saw fantastic birds. Jaunts along the shores and back roads of Delmarva revealed feathered treasures. The diversity of birds on Delmarva during winter is hard to match.

After years of protection, bald eagles are now abundant in our area. The once-endangered bald eagle is a great conservation success story. This year's Salisbury Christmas Bird Count, conducted by the Tri-County Bird Club, included 73 bald eagles in their tally. With nests along local rivers, many of these bald eagles will spend the coming months raising young eaglets that will fledge before spring.

The "Salisbury CBC" included all of Wicomico County. This year, 26 volunteers worked in teams from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m., just a week before Christmas, to collect valuable bird data. Preliminary count results included 106 species. Highlights included a golden eagle, spotted by canoe, soaring over a local creek. Over 6,000 American robins were also recorded. Robins, often assumed to be a harbinger of spring, are actually here in great numbers throughout the winter months.

Local landfills and wastewater treatment plants are also hotspots for birds. An Iceland gull was spotted at the Salisbury landfill, an exciting find for birders.

In Worcester County, for the "OC CBC," over 60 citizen scientists sprung into action three days after Christmas. .

The OC CBC yielded 149 species, an average number for the territory. Notable rarities included: Lapland longspur, clay-colored sparrow, marbled godwit and American white pelican. Northern bobwhites were conspicuously absent this year.

Staff members from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program have been participating in the count for years, taking a vacation day to join other volunteers in the field.

In quiet tidal guts and flats, wintering ducks whose summer homes range from the Arctic Tundra through southern Canada were found dabbling and diving for food. From the beach, loons in winter plumage dodged ocean waves. Local ponds hosted rafts of coot shimming along the pond edge, and male Northern shovelers, with their large spoon-like bills and glossy green heads, were seen swimming with drab brown females in carefully choreographed circles, as if dancing a baroque minuet. Snow geese and tundra swans covered local fields like a white blanket.

Predators were observed, too. Abundant red-tailed hawks were easily seen perched in trees waiting for rabbits and mice. Back in the marshes, northern harriers were flying low over spartina grasses.

If you are interested in becoming involved in local citizen science, the next opportunity is the Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 17-20, 2012. For more information, contact Salisbury University's Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art at wardeducation@salisbury.edu.

If you're interested in finding out more birding around the Maryland Coastal Bays, please contact us at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org, or visit www.mdcoastalbays.org.

Carrie Samis is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program


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