Blog 001 Christmas Bird Count : Natural Selections--Observations on Art and Nature
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Images of all paintings copyrighted by Minnesota artist Jim Rataczak © 2012

Blog 001 Christmas Bird Count

by Jim Rataczak on 12/30/11

Ahh, the season of the great Christmas Bird Count is upon us!  For those of you not familiar with this grand birdwatching tradition, it has been going on annually since the early 20th century.  In a nutshell, groups of birders go out and count all the bird species, and the numbers of each of those species, they see in a designated area on a designated day.  Counts go on all over the country, from the end of December to the beginning of January.  It's great "Citizen Science", and over the decades the data generated (compiled each year by the National Audubon Society) have illuminated numerous trends and valuable insights into bird populations and distributions. 

I take part in the count carried out each year in and around the Cedar Creek Natural History area (near Ham Lake, MN) on the third Sunday in December.  This year, our half-dozen groups collectively spotted 45 species of birds.  My group's highlights included a Red-shouldered Hawk, a couple of Northern Shrikes, and several Red-headed Woodpeckers.  Cedar Creek is a veritable hot bed for these dapper woodpeckers, and this year (with balmy temps that made if feel like it should be called the St. Patrick's Day Bird Count) over 50 Red-headeds were tallied, almost double the previous record high for this count! 

It is a day devoted to citizen science and bonhomie, of course, but you know I brought along the sketchbook too.  Here and there, I made some quick studies of some of the things we saw.  Sketching the Red-headeds made me notice that there is considerable variation in the depth of the red on their heads.  Some individuals had deep crimson over the whole head and bib.  Others had varying levels of a mousey-gray-red, and even brown, in their heads.  I suspect such birds were juveniles, but haven't confirmed that yet.

So, if you're a birder, or just interested in this aspect of nature study, joining a Christmas Bird Count is a lot of fun (unless you're on the count in Nome, AK where they encounter temps down to -30, and routinely tally up to three different species of birds each year).  You'll meet some great people, see some good birds, and maybe even be able to share a CMF with new friends.  For more info go to:  http://birds.audubon.org/cbc?gclid=CLmw0_PClq0CFQQCQAod2AJynw#vv 

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