Friday, June 7, 2013

Why Counting Birds Counts

A Canada Goose flies over the Stirling Street Bog in Andover, MA 10-13-13

When I first started counting birds years ago I had no idea it would lead me to where it has. I started a casual Life List in my teens and gradually kept track of each new species I was seeing as my husband and I moved back and forth across the country. Around the year 2000 I learned about the Great Backyard Bird Count which is Administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That was my first introduction to the idea that I could actually go out and count birds on purpose. Until then it was just being aware of any new birds that showed up at my feeders or I happened to see as I traveled. But, it wasn't until I moved to Arizona in 2007 that I actually started to survey the birds in my area when I moved into a neighborhood on the slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. Living there made me want to record my experiences in a blog, called Sycamore Canyon, named after the planned community I lived in that was part nature preserve as well. It was while writing that blog that I was challenged by a fellow blogger to start eBirding. And with that, a lister was born! For the 3 1/2 years I lived in sycamore Canyon I counted birds. I kept a yard list as well as a community list. I thought I would live there forever, but due to my husband having a job transfer after 3 1/2 years I soon found myself in Andover, Massachusetts. Shortly after I moved into my new apartment I discovered a nearby bog. It became my new eBird site survey, and my refuge from  having to live in an apartment in town.

The bog as seen from Stirling Street in Andover, MA 10-13-2010

It was Autumn when I first arrived in Andover. The fall colors were all ablaze. For the next two years I counted birds here at least once a week. In the two years I was here I only missed one week of counting birds. The lowest bird counts were in the winter, but I did not ever have a bird count of zero. Before I came, there was no data for this location on eBird and it was not an eBird Hotspot. It is now, along with Den Rock Park, which is adjacent to the bog. As an interesting note, Den Rock Park in in the town of Laurence while to bog is mostly located within the town of Andover, which is where I lived and I named it Stirling Street Bog after the street I used to walk on to get there that runs up the western edge of the bog.

Crows flying over the bog 11-18-2010

By counting birds in the same area over the course of time I was able to get a feeling for the bird species seen in the area. By submitting this information to eBird, I made this info available to the ornithologists who study bird populations and movements as well as the general public. Anyone who wants to can now log into eBird and go to the View and Explore Data Tab and locate this hotspot within Massachusetts to see what birds can be seen here. I had no idea when I started counting birds here that it would lead to something more though. One day when I was standing along the edge of the bog with my camera and bins in hand I met another woman who was also counting birds for Mass Audubon  She asked if she could access my data for a project she was working on. I told her yes. We maintained infrequent contact during my time there but right before I moved away she informed me she was putting together a guide to the Birds of Den Rock Park. Since that time she has had the book published and it is available for sale! So, my simple desire to count birds at one location has not only contributed to the eBird data but a bird guide as well! 


In the two years of counting birds at the Stirling Street Bog I was able to observe bird populations rise and fall with the seasons. Some birds were just passing through and some came here to breed, then leave. For some birds it was a stopover on migration, for others it was a year round home. In the end I personally counted 71 species at the bog over a two year period. Below are the just some of the photos I took during those two years. I did my first bird count there in September of 2010 and my last one in August of 2012. I counted birds in sun, rain, wind, snow and even before and after a hurricane! In those two years I fell in love with the Stirling Street Bog!
I climbed this snowbank to count birds in January of 2011


Crows were often seen at the bog and they showed up on nearly every count.

Common Yellowthroats are commonly seen at the bog from spring to fall.

Yellow-rumped warblers are usually seen during spring and fall migration.

Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents at the bog.

The Crows are always harassing the resident Red-tailed Hawks!

I love the many moods of the bog. This was in April of 2011.

A streamer of cormorants flies over the bog in August of 2011 right before a hurricane!

Swamp sparrow at the bog in January 2012

Eastern Phoebes nest, breed, and feed at the bog.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker 4-3-2012

Great Egret in the spring of 2012

Baltimore Orioles returned to nest each year.

And you can always find Mallards along with Canada Geese at the Bog!

Counting birds counts because it helps the birds. Anyone can count birds. You do not need to be a professional. Counting birds for eBird has not only improved my birding skills, it has taken me to all kinds of new places and has added a passion to my life. Counting birds and submitting that data to eBird helps me feel like I am leaving a legacy behind me. When I am gone, all the data I submitted will still be here to help the birds. eBirding and blogging have introduced me to all kinds of new friends. I think I will be counting birds until the day I die. Why? Because Birding is Fun and I love birds!

 Further Reading and Info:



14 comments:

  1. beautiful birds every one, but I especially loved the common yellowthroat

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    1. Carole, thank you! They are all a joy to see!

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  2. Super and informative post Kathie. I'm sure your enthusiasm will spill over to others for years to come.

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    1. Frank, oh I do hope so, because the more people learn to love the birds the more they will care about protecting them and their habitats, which is the most important thing of all!

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  3. Nice post of your birding history Kathie with some great photos to go with it.You really turned on that birder's switch! I think I talked about e-bird when I first learned about it but I only e-bird when I'm in the mood or find something special in an area that's in an area that's not popular.I should do it all the time.

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    1. Larry, yes you should since YOU are the one responsible for me eBirding in the first place! Remember when you challenged me and other bloggers to do a Big January back in 2008? You also encouraged us to keep track of our lists on ebird. Who knew you would launch an obsessive eBirder, but you did! Thank you!

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  4. Great post, Kathie! You are a very enthusiastic birder. I loved your photos and story.

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    1. You should see her at a recharge pond full of Northern Shovelers!:) She's in heaven!

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  5. You really are making a difference, Kathie! Your passion for birds is very evident. Informative post filled with lovely photographs!

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  6. So true and meaningfull these counts. I imagine theres a lot of counting going on in the East coast right now:) Have fun! Get all your counties!

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    1. LOL, Chris, I am working on it. I hear you are tearing it up in Guatemala however!

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  7. Kathie, I admire your dedication. This attracted me to your blog in the first place when I read your profile in Birding is Fun. Beautiful photos!

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    1. Hilke, thank you so much! It feels good to know that you appreciate all the work I do! However, I am having so much fun it hardly feels like work!

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