Sunday, December 21, 2008

Media Coverage of the Niles Christmas Bird Count

The 46th annual Niles Christmas Bird Count was held yesterday. The following article appeared on page B1 of the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune on Sunday, December 21, 2008:

Counting birds for Niles annual census

Area birders count species and numbers in flocks.

Tribune Staff Writer

NILES — Alison Village likes the competitive edge of counting birds.

"I like seeing if I can see something (birds) before someone else," Alison, 16, said.

She took part in the 46th annual Niles Area Christmas Bird Count Saturday with her partner, Mary Jo Canaday, of Berrien Springs.

The area for the bird count has been divided into eight territories which encompasses a circle with a 15-mile diameter that includes Niles, Buchanan and Berrien Springs.

The pair watched a bald eagle soar along the St. Joseph River four different times while taking count of birds along the river.

"That's been a treat," Alison, of Berrien Springs, said.

They saw a Lapland Longspur (a sparrow-like bird) at the Berrien County Landfill in Buchanan and that's been a first sighting of the species in this area since 1989, according to Wendy Jones, coordinator of the bird count.

"They are only seen in the winter around here," said Jones, a naturalist and education manager at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve.

There were about 450 seagulls[sic] and 2,000 to 3,000 starlings at the landfill, as well as a red-tailed hawk.

"Hawks like to eat off that kind of stuff," said Canaday. "It was a very aromatic experience."

Alison and Canaday started their count at 5:30 a.m. and finished about 4 p.m.

They'd find a place that looked like a good habitat for birds, an open field or a deeply wooded area, Canaday said.

"In order to see the birds, we used a CD with distress calls and the birds would come in to stave off the predator," she said.

It amuses Canaday to watch the reaction of birds to the CD.

"I appreciate the variety of birds and I enjoy their behavior," Canaday said. "I work long hours so it's very relaxing to be in nature. I appreciate the stillness and it keeps me going."

Dick and Pat Schinkel, of Berrien Springs, saw a robin in a berry tree in the parking lot of McDonald's in Buchanan and a tundra swan on the St. Joseph River.

"They migrate through here but normally don't stop here," Dick Schinkel said. "We've been doing the count for 30 years and know the area of our territory."

The data collected by the field counters at lunch time was 54 species, said Jones. She also had feeder counters (people that count bird feeders at their homes) that mail in their data.

And bird counters have been referred to as citizen scientists for several years, Jones said.

"We're not trained scientists, but we can gather data that professional scientists can never get due to time and money," she said.

A history of bird counting

The bird count celebrates its 109th year with more than 42,000 birders taking part in the annual census.

The 2007 Niles Area Christmas Bird Count included 11,521 individual birds, a record high, and 72 species.

Data from each count provide valuable information to ornithologists, scientists that [sic] study birds.

The National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count was established in 1900 by Frank Chapman, an ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

He began publishing “Bird Lore,” which became a unifying national form for the Audubon movement.

Chapman felt it was better to count birds than shoot them, which was a sport on Christmas Day, to see how many birds could be shot.

The first bird count extended throughout the U.S. from Mexico to Canada.

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