I participated in my fourth or fifth Fermilab Christmas Bird Count today (of that, I’ve lost count) from 7:00 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. or so. It was probably the warmest and wettest CBC the area has ever had (although even at 45 degrees Fahrenheit the winds blow gustier through Fermilab’s wide open spaces and do not exactly feel “warm”). I was in one of three groups of birders attempting to cover the 6,800 acre space that provides a variety of habitats to wintering and migrant species.
So even though we are more used to dealing with snow and ice instead of rain this time of year, we still had a good time and there were some interesting birds, even if I suspect the numbers of species and the counts were down considerably from a “normal” year.
Birds just aren’t out and about as much in constant rain. Nonetheless I managed to see my lifer Ring-Necked Pheasant when we were driving from one location to another. This pheasant was busy wading in a puddle by the side of the road. I had my point-and-shoot camera on me in case we needed to document something, so I was able to document my first encounter with this bird.
The other nice surprise was to visit four Tundra Swans that another group had found in their designated area. I have seen Trumpeter Swans and Mute Swans but Tundra may also be a new species for my life list. Sigh. If I ever get around to figuring out exactly what’s on it. My List, that is.
Point-and-shoot, indeed. How easy it is to forget that the term of “shooting” a picture came from gettting the image of a bird without having to kill it first.
Even with the cold and rain, and getting up around 3 a.m. this morning so I could leave the house by 5:30, driving and walking through a lot of territory searching for birds in good company was perhaps the best diversion anyone could ask for on a day when the nation’s consciouness is blurred and blighted by the senseless slaughter in the grammar school in Newtown, Connecticut. I don’t intend to use this blog space as a soap box for anything other than the importance of the music, intelligence, beauty and fascination of birds, but it could seem almost frivolous to be writing about a Christmas Bird Count. So I want to expound a bit on a connecting thought that occurred to me, if I may.
The Christmas Bird Count was started by the National Audubon Society at the beginning of the conservation movement in this country, in response to what had up until then been a national pastime called the Christmas “Side” Hunt where people went out to see how many creatures they could bag with their shotguns; obviously a lot of the victims were birds. The idea of counting birds instead of shooting them was a first, quiet step toward preserving bird species because it was feared their numbers were declining. The count has gone nationwide, participation increasing yearly, and the data collected by participants is used to monitor trends in bird populations. People still hunt waterfowl but it’s regulated during hunting season, there’s a quota, and the fees go toward preserving habitat.
I don’t know anything more about hunting, it’s not something I understand any need for whatsoever, but it seems people don’t shoot birds with semiautomatic rifles. Unfortunately sometimes ignorant people shoot birds they’re not supposed to, like endangered Whooping Cranes, but don’t get me started.
It’s too bad a national holiday for saving the lives of innocent people won’t work the same way as a CBC. Obviously setting aside one day to not shoot people but instead count as many as you can is not going to deter any desperately angry soul from murdering as many as he can on some other day. Setting up a quota of how many people you can take on the other days won’t cut it either. I am not trying to make light of this. I am as horrified, sickened and saddened as the next person. And maybe doing a Christmas Bird Count isn’t going to be enough to help birds survive, in the long run. But it still makes sense to do it. And it doesn’t hurt anybody. In fact, I think finding and counting birds helps the people who do the count as much if not more than it helps the birds.