37th Annual Christmas bird count covers Grant County and Antone

Four mallards and two American wigeons congregate in a pond at the old Grant Western lumber mill, as members of the Grant County Bird Club were out on their annual Christmas Bird Count in 2017.

The 38th John Day Christmas Bird Count will be on Saturday, December 15, 2018. We will meet at the Outpost Restaurant no later than 7 am, earlier if you want breakfast. The compilation and monthly bird club meeting will be at the Cecil and Irene Gagnon’s home that evening starting at 5:30 pm. Everyone is welcome that evening for the potluck dinner whether you spent the day birding in the field or at home. Participants should dress warmly and be prepared for that day’s weather. They should also bring binoculars, field guide, lunch and beverages as most parties will be out the full day and out of town. For further information, contact Tom Winters at 541-542-2006 or tjwinters1951@gmail.com.

For those that want additional winter birding experience, Joel Geier will be conducting the Antone Christmas Bird Count on Monday, December 17, 2018. This count is centered west of the John Day Fossil Beds. Participants need to meet at the Cant Ranch House at the Fossil Beds by 8:00 AM. The compilation will take place after 4:15 PM. For more information, contact Joel at joel.geier@peak.org.

Since the Christmas Bird Count began over a century ago, this is the 119th count, it has relied on the dedication and commitment of volunteer citizen scientists. In other words, it all starts with anyone willing to spend some time counting birds. The Christmas Bird Count season is December 14 through January 5 each year and each compiler chooses a date within this period. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within "Count Circles," which focus on specific geographical areas. The John Day “circle” boundaries are Four Corners and Beech Creek Road on the north, the John Day river crossing west of Mt Vernon, the Canyon Creek crossing five miles south of Canyon City, and Hall’s Hill to the east. Each circle is led by a Count Compiler, Tom Winters being the compiler for the John Day count. If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. In addition, if your home is within the boundaries of a Count Circle, then you can stay home and report the birds that visit your feeder once you have arranged to do so with the Count Compiler.

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt." They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a "Christmas Bird Census" that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm of 27 dedicated birders, 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. The locations ranged from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California with most counts in or near the population centers of northeastern North America. Those original 27 Christmas Bird Counters tallied around 90 species on all the counts combined.. The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years. The long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

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