HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society's 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
"Bird enthusiasts, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, will head out on an annual mission - often before dawn - to make a difference and to see nature firsthand," said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division chief. "Each year, volunteers brave snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count, and they have made enormous contributions to bird conservation continent-wide while doing so.
"The data collected through this effort – which is the longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years."
Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within "Count Circles," which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a "Count Compiler," who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist. Also, those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders, or join a group of birdwatchers in a local field.
"In either case, if you have never been on a CBC before, your first step is to locate and contact your local Count Compiler on Audubon's website to find out how you can volunteer," Brauning said. Audubon's website is www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/.
Brauning also noted that there are two changes to the CBC that participants should know about. First, the CBC is now a free program. Audubon will no longer charge the $5 fee of field participants. Second, to minimize the effects of the loss of fee income for Audubon, American Birds will no longer be printed on paper and mailed to participants, and Audubon will move to an online delivery of the summary results of the CBC.
Brauning noted that the CBC makes an indispensable contribution to conservation because it monitors bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.
"Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat," Brauning said. "An example of this is the rusty blackbird that migrates from the boreal taiga forests of Canada and Alaska to the southeastern United States in winter. Pennsylvania is on the northern edge of its winter range, and some CBCs do count this declining wetland songbird. Hawks also are more easily counted in winter and our state is a good place to see several hawk species in winter, including red-tailed hawks and rough-legged hawks."
Brauning also noted that the CBC is a good way to introduce beginners to bird identification. It is much easier to find birds through your binoculars when there are few leaves on the trees to hide them from view.
"There are fewer bird species around in winter than at other times of year, so it is easier to learn bird species identification," Brauning said. "Also, birds are easier to spot because the trees lack the leaves that hide birds from your eyes in spring and summer. In fact, many birders got started in this hobby in winter in a car with more experienced birders on a Christmas count. CBC allows for mentoring in the field. For best results, spend some time scouting your area. Rather than spending a day in the car, get out and walk the back roads and land where you have permission to go birding.
"A wide variety of birds are observed in winter counts including an assortment of songbirds and our upland game birds, which are mostly residents. It is a challenge, for instance, to find a ruffed grouse on a CBC in many circles. People go out of their way to find a wintering woodcock around spring seeps, in wet pastures, or along streams. Birders learn more about habitat associations and the value of cover and food sources to birds, such as winterberry, rose hips and sumac. Bluebirds, hermit thrushes, and American robins are often found in grape arbors, sumac patches, or other places where wild fruits are located."
To view instructions on how to search for a circle and sign-up for an open count, visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on "Wildlife" in menu bar at the top of the homepage, and then choose the "Bird and Bird Conservation" and select "Christmas Bird Count" under the "Enjoying Birding" list. Information also can be obtained from Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count website (www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/), or on the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology's website (www.pabirds.org).
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission