Birders flock to 114th Christmas Bird Count

For several weeks around Christmas time and New Year's thousands of Americans take part in what is dubbed an "adventure" by the National Audubon Society.

Volunteers with binoculars flock to fields, streams, woods, and water on an annual mission, braving the weather, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count, which runs from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.

Last year, 47 counts were held in Virginia, including one centered throughout Walkerton. And, this year is no different.

According to Leslie Fellows, an Aylett resident who has participated in the local count for several years, volunteers will begin this area's bird count bright and early on Jan. 5.

"The count circle is centered near Walkerton, which means volunteers can be seen counting in parts of New Kent, King and Queen, and King William counties," Fellows said. "Two separate teams typically boat the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers in search of waterfowl, but this year we're not sure if we will have anyone on the rivers."

The annual counts include the US, Canada and Latin America, and according to the National Audubon Society, last year the participation level included 2,248 counts and 63,223 volunteers. The combined counts tallied over 60 million birds.

Those participating in the counts report all birds spotted and the data is used by researchers, conservation biologists, and individuals who study the long-term health and status of the early winter bird populations.

Each individual count is performed in a "count circle" with a diameter of 15 miles, and including at least 10 volunteers.

"Many residents graciously make their yards and farms available to the volunteers every year, but many are wary when they see people with binoculars scouring their properties from the road," Fellows said. "Fear not, they're only searching your trees, bushes, feeders and yards for as many different birds as they can see before they're off to their next promising spot."

Fellows explained that all participants display identifying documentation on their vehicle dashboards.

The birders are looking for new volunteers who will allow access to their properties, hoping to increase their count totals.

"We follow a strict code of birding ethics, which prohibits us from entering any properties we don't have permission to enter. It therefore means that we search for birds from our vehicles and on the sides of roads lots of times," Fellows said.

This year's count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, is the 114th Christmas Bird Count. The project is one of the oldest citizen science projects and has been conducted every year since 1900.

Anyone interested in participating in the count, or if you live with 7.5 miles of Walkerton and would like to volunteer your property, please contact local coordinator Fred Atwood at 703-242-1675 or email fredatwood@yahoo.

Hubbard can be reached by phone at 804-885-0042