Birds : As 2008 flies by
The last week of the year is arriving in a seeming blur, again. It was a year to remember, and one only hopes that the year 2009 will be better both for birds, health and finances. The start of the New Year always holds lots of promise and this coming year seems poised to be historic on many levels. Time, as always, will tell.
The end of a year is always a cathartic event. Out with the old, in with the new, the future rolling on in, ready or not. It all emphasizes that the only constant thing in life is change. No two years are ever exactly alike. It is one of the most wondrous things about spending time in the natural world.
The ebb and flow of the seasons, like the tide rolling in and out, is inexorable and timeless. How different one season is from the next, one year to another. The more things stay the same, the more changeable they become. Climate change, human activity causing massive changes to the planet, and constant changes by life to adapt, a.k.a. evolution, there is much to think about - enough to cause one to wax prophetic about all manner of subjects.
Photo by E. Vernon Laux
Enough waxing philosophic about all manner of things. Let's get back to birds. The annual Vineyard Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009. Martha's Vineyard is divided into 13 sections and each section will then be birded all day by a group assigned to find and count all the birds in that area. A group consists of two to as many people as want to participate. The cumulative data, when viewed over periods of a decade or more, provide a lot of information about bird populations and species distribution.
Admittedly, early winter is not the best or easiest time to look for birds in the northern hemisphere. However, there are many more birds on Martha's Vineyard than one might presume. For many species, in fact, this area is the prime wintering ground, with higher concentrations of certain species than anywhere else on the continent. For these far northern nesting birds, the Vineyard and its surrounding waters is the southern extreme of their range. Imagine these waters in winter being the tropics for eiders and scoters. What incredible insulating and waterproofing properties feathers have.
A couple of years ago, the National Audubon Society, the coordinating agency for the CBC, standardized the official count period. A CBC must be conducted between December 14 and January 5 to be included in the official CBC totals. A CBC is an attempt to count every bird of every species in a circle with a 15-mile diameter in a 24-hour period.
Islands, of course, are different and have their own geographical boundaries. While not fitting the formula used inland the National Audubon Society will often grant exemptions to islands that have natural geographic boundaries if they are close to the formula used. The entire Vineyard is censused on the CBC even though it is slightly larger than an inland count circle.
Participants roam far and wide, venturing into places that never get visited by people looking for birds - or only get visited once a year on the CBC. All manner of birds get found that otherwise would go undetected. The CBC is a great way to begin birding and a chance for neophytes and others of all birding skill levels to participate, learn a lot about Martha's Vineyard and meet some great people. If you have any interest in participating please call Rob Culbert at 508-693-4908.
After the dust settles from the holidays and the CBCs, it will be time to settle in and enjoy (or endure) the winter. For those with even a casual interest in birds, it is a rewarding time as avian visitors allow unobstructed and close views. A field guide and a pair of binoculars are all you need to get started learning about the birds around you.
Over-wintering species are especially easy to see in periods of bad weather, snow cover being the best condition for birders, the worst for birds, which stand out like multicolored outdoor ornaments against a fresh snowfall. It is bad for birds because the snow covers their natural food, taking it out of reach, making them dependent on a sometimes-unreliable food source, bird feeders.
Have a very Merry Christmas, a terrific New Year's Eve and an even better New Year. Until next year - keep your eyes to the sky.