They say great minds think alike, and who am I to argue with “They?” The Franklin Bird Club and Carolina Field Birders (CFB) each schedule their annual CBC (Christmas Bird Count) for the last available weekend in Audubon’s count window. They do so for the same reason — both counts are relative newcomers to North Carolina’s organized CBCs and both groups have participants already committed to longer-running CBCs in the area.
I have the great pleasure of being a regular participant in the Franklin count and the honor of serving as compiler for CFB’s Balsam CBC — and here I must recognize a debt of gratitude I owe to the CFB for being flexible and supportive, allowing me to schedule in such a manner as to be able to participate in both counts.
That generally means back-to-back days of braving the elements, beating the briars, slogging through whatever terrain, squinting into the sun through binoculars, etc. from dawn till dusk to record 40 to 45 species of birds — a number you would likely surpass in about two hours on any morning during spring or fall migration. So, why do it?
What can I say, I’m a glutton for fun. Really, spending all day beating the bushes with a group of like-minded friends is a serious good time. Toss in a hermit thrush sauntering along the trail 20 feet in front of you, golden-crowned kinglets flashing their dazzling crowns, kestrels dancing on the drafts, a bald eagle fly-by during lunch break and various other avian encounters, and it makes a truly great day.
And believe it or not all this fun is really meaningful work. A lot of people shrug at the idea of citizen science, but Audubon notes on its CBC website, “To date over 200 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understanding how birds are responding to a changing climate. This documentation is what enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by global warming ….” So helping out helps add to the fun.
A couple of snapshots from this weekend: it was about 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon during the Franklin count and we were at Prentiss Bridge. We had been lamenting the fact that our efforts had not turned up a single wild turkey. One of the reasons we went to Prentiss Bridge was because an adjacent field had turned up our only wild turkey the year before. After discovering nothing new at the bridge we were huddled up trying to think of where we might go, in what little time was left, to find something new. Just then we began to hear the thunderous flapping of wings and looked up to see five wild turkeys flying (yep, flying) overhead.
On Sunday during the Balsam count we stopped for a picnic lunch at the Waynesville Rec Center. We chose a table in the sun at the edge of the soccer fields. While eating lunch we looked up to see a large dark bird flapping and gliding hawk-like in the sky. A look through binoculars revealed an immature bald eagle.
I think both counts wound up with 65 total species. I have some feeder lists to go over for the Balsam count to be sure, but that’s what it looks like at this time. The Franklin count turned up a couple of orange-crowned warblers — good finds for a CBC in this area. At the Balsam Count we took advantage of an open Blue Ridge Parkway to run up and snag red-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees.
As usual after our Balsam CBC, I would like to thank the Town of Waynesville for access to the watershed, Mr. Jim Francis, who has one of the best sparrow fields in Haywood County, and Balsam Mountain Preserve and Balsam Mountain Trust for access to their property. All of these areas are vital parts of our CBC circle. I am also happy to announce three brand new counters for this year’s Balsam count: Jamie Harrelson, Tanya Poole and Jerry Fringeli. Hope we see you guys again next year.