Birdwatchers counting birds over Christmas

Volunteers are welcome for annual bird count.
Tom Jackson
Dec 14, 2013
Let’s see. One, two, three, four — oh, no! They flew away! If the birds perched on the tree branches will please hold still for just a moment, birdwatchers across Ohio would like to carry out the National Audobon Society’s annual Christmas bird count.
For hardcore birders in northern Ohio’s important bird migration areas, such as Ottawa and Erie counties, the annual count is as much of a holiday tradition as caroling and mistletoe.    
The count is spread out over several weeks in the Yule season, from mid-December to early January.

Put-in-Bay resident Lisa Brohl will be leading the effort Sunday on South Bass Island. Several birders will be joining her for the island’s bird count. Two birders also will fly to North Bass Island, and another count will be taking place on Kelleys Island.

Want to help?
Volunteers are welcomed for the annual bird count, particularly if you know enough to be able to recognize many. Less experienced volunteers are typically paired with experts, bird biologist Mark Shieldcastle says.
Here are dates and locations for bird counts, with contact information for the local organizer:
• Dec. 15: Lake Erie Islands. Lisa Brohl (for South Bass Island), 419-285-5811 or email at John Pogacnik 440-259-2751 or  .
• Dec. 20: Fremont. Mark Shieldcastle,  .
• Dec. 21: Firelands. Carol Andres,  .
• Jan. 4: Gypsum. Thomas Bartlett,  .
• Jan. 5: Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Thomas Bartlett,

Brohl said she’ll be leading her band of birdwatchers from sunup to sundown, then adds, “We’ll be up even earlier, listening for owls”

The group will start at one end of South Bass Island and work its way to the other, she said.

Brohl is hoping to spot many tundra swans.

“Last week, we had about 200 in one location” Brohl said.

The bird counts have been taking place for more than 100 years. That gives a data set that allows scientists to follow trends in population of certain species, Brohl said.

Those trends become more clear over time, said Mark Shieldcastle, a bird biologist who will be leading the Fremont count.

Trends from just one year to the next can be misleading, he explained. For example, if water is frozen over on the day of the bird count, ducks will be scarce because they’ve gone south.

But some trends are clear. The Fremont count would spot 10 or 12 bald eagles 20 years ago, he said.

“Now, the potential is 60 or 70” he said. “When you have large changes over time, you can say the population is increasing or decreasing”

The count allows scientists to determine which areas a particular bird lives in, and can suggest areas for further research, Shieldcastle said.

It’s also a way to get people involved in caring about wildlife, he said.

“It increases the appreciation for the natural world,” he said. “That value gets overlooked quite often, but it should not be underestimated”