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Creating New Tradition with Christmas Bird Count

Do you have a holiday season tradition that you have maintained for many years? For some, a tradition might be antique Christmas tree ornaments passed down through the generations, or grandfather’s amazing eggnog recipe (which you can share with me, if you have one). For my family, the traditions were more active and involved getting outside to experience winter.

When I was a kid, nothing could keep me indoors. It was always a joy to open gifts on Christmas morning, and the aromas emanating from the kitchen would make our mouths drool. By late afternoon the house would be filled with aunts, uncles and cousins. However, during the in-between time, my brothers and I would, as mom used to say, “take it outdoors.” A snowless Christmas Day would find us tossing the football around, shooting hoops or going for a woods ramble.

Nowadays, my traditional outdoor activity tends to be a hike. For the past few years, we’ve headed over to Bigelow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest in Union or to Old Furnace State Park and Ross Cliffs in Killingly. Both offer great hiking not too far from where I live in Putnam. We’re always back in time for dinner.

This year, I am looking to establish a new outdoor holiday tradition and found the perfect opportunity to share the outdoors with other like-minded folks, while also doing a bit of citizen science on behalf of the National Audubon Society.

Citizen science is a cooperative arrangement between scientists and non-scientists in the important and time-consuming process of monitoring and data gathering for natural resources conservation and environmental research. Quite simply, nonscientists contribute to the body of information and data used by scientists, contributing to the base of knowledge needed for making sound environmental decisions.

The National Audubon Society has been conducting the Christmas Bird Count for more than 100 years, and it is the longest running citizen science bird project in the world. Originally started to encourage people to count birds instead of shooting them, the Christmas Bird Count takes place each year from mid-December to early January.

Thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada, and many countries in the Western Hemisphere go out over a 24-hour period to count birds. Volunteers called count captains or compilers coordinate “count circles,” which count both number of species and number of individual birds over a 24-hour period.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile diameter circle. Volunteers follow specified routes through the designated circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally; all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. Beginning birders are assigned to a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.

In researching the Christmas Bird Count in The Last Green Valley, I found four Christmas Bird Count Circles in the National Heritage Corridor. The one closest to me is called the Edwin Way Teale Trail Wood Circle. Named for the naturalist writer, the circle originated at the home Teale shared with his wife Nellie in Hampton. Their home and property is now a 168-acre sanctuary owned by the Connecticut Audubon Society (an independent nonprofit established before the National Audubon Society and its Connecticut chapter).

Susan Harrington is the compiler for the Teale Circle, so I got in touch with her to see if I could be added to the list of volunteers. She agreed to add me to the list and assigned me to the team that she has with her husband.

The Teale Circle is comprised of eight sections, almost like wedges of a pie with teams for each section all doing the count on the same day. The data and lists for the entire circle are sent back to Harrington for compiling and she forwards the information to the National Audubon Society. Our Christmas Bird Count date is Dec. 31, toward the end of the count period. Other local counts are earlier in the count window, such as the one in Storrs, which was held Dec. 16.

I’ll meet up with Harrington and her team at 7:30 a.m. in Brooklyn, and we’ll visit a few good viewing and bird habitat locations before ending up at the Quinebaug Valley State Trout Hatchery in Central Village. I know the hatchery property well, having visited it many times. It is an excellent location for birds of all types from waterfowl, raptors and songbirds to the many species of birds in our region during the winter months. With more than 2,000 acres, almost a mile of frontage along the Quinebaug River, two ponds and a very large field that is more than a mile in circumference, the hatchery is perfect wild bird habitat. The large field is excellent for viewing winter birds who feed on the seeds on the many woody shrubs that grow along and within the field.

I look forward to the Christmas Bird Count, to joining the Edwin Way Teale Circle and starting a new holiday season tradition. I’ll report back in early 2018 on my experience.

For information on the Christmas Bird Count, go to the following link: http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

Those interested in birds will also be interested in learning about (and possibly volunteering to help) with the Connecticut Bird Atlas Project spearheaded by Min Huang, a wildlife biologist for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Huang will be at the Connecticut Audubon Society in Pomfret at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 (snow date is Jan. 9) to conduct an informational program for those interested in this important project.

The state and Connecticut Audubon are working closely together on the Connecticut Bird Atlas, which will map all species found in the state during both nesting and non-nesting seasons. Starting next year, they will be seeking the help of birdwatchers to document the distribution, abundance and breeding activities of birds at sites throughout the state. The resulting data will be used to document changes since the last comprehensive survey of the state’s birds, which happened in the early 1980s, inform the State Wildlife Action Plan and determine priority areas for bird conservation and land protection.

For more information on this important project, use this link: http://www.ctbirdatlas.org/

We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor that remains 77 percent forest, farm and field. The birdlife we enjoy, feed and watch on a daily basis rely on the undeveloped habitat of our region. They are an important part of what makes this region so very special. I hope you’ll join me and others as we work to understand more about our avian neighbors and work to protect them for future generations.

Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 35 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.