“Tis the season! It’s Christmas Bird Count time and as many of us do our duty to count every last single feathered thing in our prescribed circles, certain things have become evident to me after twenty-four years in the tallying trenches and now seventeen years as a compiler. First, let me congratulate every one of you for your dedication and diligence to the birds. Each and every one of you is a foot soldier in the citizen science army. Without you, we’d know little about the species that grace an otherwise drab and somber winter landscape. But then, after all these years, there are certain-truisms and phenomena that seem to keep repeating themselves. I thought in the spirit of giving and the season, I would share a few. So here goes!
1. Does anyone ever REALLY count all the birds? I mean, after the 110, 678th Rock Pigeon—how much more counting can you do? And besides, they don’t really count anyway. Do they?
2. What’s up with that person in your sector who always turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. You know, that guy who sees a half dozen varied thrushes skulking where everyone else saw six American robins; or the woman who somehow makes the cardinal into a vermillion flycatcher—all before lunch. Even the subtle hints to consult a field guide and consider the common thing first don’t seem to work as they insist on the goldfinches being evening grosbeaks because it’s an irruptive year. Yeah, and your count is in South Florida.
3. Ummm yeah--foot miles. So who’s wearing the pedometer in the group? If I’m brush busting for sparrows around huge ag fields- leaving shreds of flesh in bramble tangles and stumbling in and out of muddy furrow canyons, then rest assured that by the end of the day my foot miles will have swollen to at least 3 times the actual distance I’ve walked.
4. The bird count doldrums. Yes, that horrifically and excruciatingly boring time—typically between noon and three or so, when you're fighting that Mexican lunch special and all the birds decide to siesta somewhere other than where you’re counting. As tumbleweeds roll through the streets and paint dries somewhere at a rate faster than you ‘re piling up species, even that fifth can of Red Bull Xtra Octane doesn’t do the trick. My suggestion? Try toothpicks as eyelid supports. A bit painful but…
5. Sooo…it’s a BIRD COUNT—not a BIG DAY. So you’ve got those folks who stake out some rare bird for a week, surrounding the location in super secrecy and swearing everyone else to keep the whereabouts hush-hush until the compilation when they can spring it on everyone—BAM! A SCOOP! Meanwhile, they report no crows or gulls from their sector—which contains a landfill full of rotting fish. They may have watched “The Big Year” one too many times.
6. Post Note to #5 --Ever notice how the last hour of the count is like an episode of “The Amazing Race” as you rush frenetically to find the species you should have on your list? Somehow Carolina Wrens---- birds you saw everywhere just the day before-- have been extirpated from your area. Not one, not a single solitary loud-mouthed wren can be found. Oh the shame of it all! The humiliation of missing the “can’t miss bird” cannot be drowned by even the fanciest scoop—or that third grande cerveza.
7. What the duck?!? Waterfowl have decided not to come south of like—North Dakota—for the past few years. Some call it short-stopping as the hordes of web-footed, winged things find open water far to the north and leave us down south with nary a mallard for the tally. Even the feral Canada geese make themselves rare. If this doesn’t convince you that global warming is real then you should invest heavily in coastal development futures.
8. Caution. Don’t sit in front of that dilapidated hovel of a house (the one with the 1978 AMC Pacer on cement blocks and the confederate flag painted on the door) with binoculars waiting for the lark sparrow to show up in the weedy field that’s really the home’s front yard. As folks who look like casting call rejects from the movie “Deliverance” pile out of the house eyeing you with suspicion, three teeth (and maybe armed to protect their castle), drive away—quickly. The sound of banjos you hear is real and the lark sparrow wasn’t confirmed anyway. By the way, if you continue to insist on counting birds at Honey Boo Boo’s place, you might want to learn to squeal like a pig. Just sayin’.
9. The "Super-spisher". Yep. That guy. You know, the one who sprays a fountain of spit into the brush to pull out the bird so that everyone can I.D. it. Not only do his absurdly loud salivary solicitations assure that every skulking sparrow will flee to the opposite side of the woodlot, but those that do remain hidden are likely to be drowned in the subsequent shower of saliva.
10. Recipe for Post Christmas Count Recovery-
a. Ditch the winter weather, Carhartts, heavy coats and Keen boots for a hot shower, bathrobe, jammies and thick socks.
b. Secure copious amounts of beer and/ or other libation (tequila and/or single malt scotch dulls the pain of dawn to dusk ticking and herding the cats that a group of counters at a compilation can become).
c. Commandeer the most comfortable chair possible in front of a wide screen HD television with opposing groups of 11 heavily-padded , hyper-muscularized, uniformed men running around on a green field and intent on smashing one another to take possession of a brown spheroid --otherwise known as a football. This activity can salve the long hours spent counting. Keep the remote nearby to switch to your favorite reality show (Honey Boo Boo maybe?) or perhaps swoon into dreams of your own as you repeat 10a.
d. Fall deeply into a dreamless sleep (or stupor) as a result of combining 10a, 10b and 10c. The next count is coming and data entry can’t be far behind!
Have Fun Birding Y’all and Happy Holidays!