BRIAN ALLEN: Christmas Bird Count provides important information

By BRIAN ALLEN
Guest Columnist

On Dec. 14, the Manistee Audubon Club will be participating in the National Audubon and Cornell University annual Christmas Bird Count.

There are usually about 70 Christmas Counts in Michigan, and in some years Manistee has had one of the highest numbers of species counted for the entire state. This is remarkable as we are so far north of some of the milder regions in the state, and we have fewer people out in the field compared to some of the metropolitan areas.

BRIAN ALLEN

BRIAN ALLEN

The Christmas Count is a winter bird survey. Teams of observers cover each of the eight sections of the Manistee count circle, with the center at Fisk Road and U.S. 31. The area of the count measures out for a radius of seven and a half miles. Our circle extends from Stronach up to nearly Bear Lake and from Lake Michigan to just shy of Brethren.

The field teams are out all day, many from before dawn counting owls and up until dusk. Other observers, the feeder counters, have the luxury of staying warm at home and counting all the birds that come into their seed and suet feeders. At the end of the day many of us gather for a potluck dinner and share tales of the day’s adventures and do a preliminary count of all the birds seen.

We often have a friendly competition between the counts to the south (Mason County) and north (Benzie County) but help each other by often counting for them on their count days.

Manistee often has some of the highest counts for deep sea diving ducks in the state, including Long-tailed Duck and White-winged Scoter. The Manistee River valley, inland lakes (probably frozen this year) like Bar Lake, Manistee Lake and Portage Lake often have ducks, coots, swans and sometimes even Great Blue Herons to add to our numbers.

We have the benefit of a long Lake Michigan shoreline that funnels migrants. It’s not unusual for flocks of Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls or Pine Siskins to be seen flying south along the lakeshore this time of year.

We are always hoping for something rare to show up. One year a Northern Hawk Owl was found on Schoedel Road. They are a rare daytime hunting owl, like the more common Snowy Owl, from the boreal forests of Canada that rarely venture south of the Sault Ste. Marie area. We had birders from all over the Midwest come up to Manistee that winter to see the Hawk Owl.

From the reports this fall we are looking forward to finding the first Evening Grosbeaks here in many years. I’m still hoping for one of the rarest birds we ever had, a Townsend’s Solitaire, a thrush from the Rocky Mountains, to show up again, this time with all of us seeing it.

If you are able to identify birds and would like to join in on the count, call at (231) 510-9380 for either birding in the field or counting at your feeder. We would love to have you join us.

For Mason county contact David Dister at (231) 845-7574 and for Benzie County contact John Ester at (231) 944-9177.

Brian Allen has been watching birds and doing bird research for over 40 years. Readers can contact him at manisteebirder@gmail.com for more information or to send questions that could be answered in a column.

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

The Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations to Audubon. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day — not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.

— Source: National Audubon Society

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