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Wednesday, 14 February 2007 00:00

No excuses

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Now here’s a way to bird from your kitchen table, in your pajamas and slippers, with a steaming hot cup of coffee in your hand. This year will be the tenth annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The count is a collaboration between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It is sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited so you don’t even have to fork over the five bucks required to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Count dates are Feb. 16-19.

 

And for those non-birding spouses, don’t worry, when your significant other calls out, “Honey, I’m leaving for the Great Backyard Bird Count,” they can be back in as little as 15 minutes.

Of course, for those of us looking for an excuse to beat the bushes from dawn till dark, till our eyes are bleary from staring through binouculars and our arms are so weary from holding up same that we can barely raise a toast to our accomplishments at the end of the day — we can bird till our heart’s content.

Cornell changed the GBBC format in 2005 to include “America’s Backyard” so all parks and/or public lands are fair game. And since you’re not restricted by a count circle like you are for a CBC, you can choose your own itinerary. All you have to do is spend at least 15 minutes at each location. For example, say you would like to bird Lake Julian Park in Asheville and Jackson Park in Hendersonville, no way those two would fit in one CBC circle. But all you have to do is spend 15 minutes to as long as you would like at one, make a list of species and numbers of individuals you record, then pack up and head to the next location.

Cornell and Audubon include the GBBC under their “citizen science” umbrella.

Whoa! I can see the teeth-gnashing, eye-rolling and hair-pulling now. I know, I know, with no controls, no established protocol and no oversight, “science” is a pretty loose term here. But part of science is collecting raw data, and with more than 60,000 checklists being recorded there will be lots of data.

And without documentation, those merlins and peregrines reported cruising the backyard feeders will be dismissed out of hand. But the chickadees, titmice, blue jays, robins and even starlings and house sparrows will be noted. And rest assured if you get a good photo of that rarity at your feeder it will be duly recorded.

Laura Erickson is an ornithologist who maintains www.birderblog.com. I ran across a pretty salient point she made regarding the GBBC in the archives of the BIRDCHAT listserv, “The only way the GBBC can taint the [citizen-science projects] is if people use their knowledge of ornithology to tear it down rather than to help Cornell improve the project.”

And, as I pointed out in an earlier Naturalist’s Corner regarding the CBC, “We didn’t create Dupont State Forest or preserve the Needmore Tract because we read, in some scientific journal, about the need to preserve biodiversity. We protected these areas because we were connected to these areas. We had experienced them.

“As the number of people who experience CBCs or other citizen-science projects [GBBC] increases, the number of people who become connected increases. And the more people who are connected to more wild places, means more wild places will be protected.”

So get out there — or stay in there — and count some birdies during the GBBC, then send in your data and don’t be surprised if you have a good time.

To learn more about the CBC and how to process your data go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc.

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