Next weekend (Feb. 15-18) is the eleventh annual Great Backyard Bird Count and the third annual Hendershot Black Bayou Birdapalooza. For strongly held, deeply felt and wholly unarticulated reasons, my oldest brother, Ford, and I have chosen the GBBC as the reason d’etre for getting together in our old backyard of northeast Louisiana, counting birds and recounting the past.
Back when Ford and I tromped our backyard regularly, Black Bayou was a cypress-filled, hyacinth-infested pool of languid black water, just past the fingertips of Monroe. Much of the rest of the environs that make up the 4,200-acre Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge were part of the Cities Service Wildlife Management Area — the wilderness students would carpool to for ornithology and botany field trips when I was in college in Monroe.
Today, Black Bayou Lake NWR is an island, hemmed in on the west and north by four-lane highways that connect Monroe, north Monroe, Sterlington and Bastrop in a blink of the eye, making the old half-hour drive along two-lane highways a thing of the past. On the east, four lanes are snaking out of Monroe headed north to the hamlet of Swartz before it reduces to two lanes and meanders through suburbia to Bastrop. But thanks to forethought, in the middle is this oasis that remains much the way it once was.
Make no mistake about it: through this haze of nostalgia, we count birds. The inaugural Birdapalooza, in 2006, was pretty impromptu. Ford and I were in Louisiana for a gathering of the clan so our birding time was limited and the weather was lousy, yet we managed 37 species. Last year, it was just the two of us and the weather was better and we had more time and we ended with 57 species. I expect this third-annual Birdapalooza to set the standard for future events.
I know, for myself, and I think, for many other birders, the relaxed atmosphere of the GBBC is quiet appealing. Birders are required, at a minimum, to count birds for at least 15 minutes during one of the four days from Feb. 15 through Feb. 18. And, of course, birders are free to bird from sunup till sundown all four days if they wish.
There are no fees, participants submit their data online and can keep abreast of what’s going on across the rest of the country by visiting the GBBC web site. Participants are also urged to photograph their efforts and submit their images as part of the GBBC’s annual photo contest.
Last year there were 81,003 checklists submitted. Total species recorded was 613 and the total number of individual birds reported was 11,082,387.
To learn about the history, purpose and workings of the GBBC, go to their web site at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/. Besides the background and past statistics, you will get all the information needed to participate.
The GBBC is a “citizen-science” project led by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and partners with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited. So as the official 2008 GBBC slogan states get out there and, “Count for Fun! — Count for the Future!”