The 123rd Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Winter 2022-23 / Amanda Bancroft
Every year, groups of bird enthusiasts of all skill levels get outdoors and count birds in their backyards, parks, or neighborhoods. Learn more about what the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is and how to participate next year!
I haven’t written about our annual bird count since the 118th count, in this blog post interview with Sim Barrow (NWA Land Trust count leader at that time). I also wrote about birding and various bird species in several “Making Ripples” columns in past newspapers (after 8 years, I stopped writing the column). So when Joe Neal suggested I write a post about my experience with the bird count here, I thought it was a great idea.
Ripples leases land for our projects from the owners of the Historic Johnson Farm, which has hosted birder groups since long before we moved here in 2015 – even before I was born. Counters enjoy cider, cocoa and goodies in the historic farmhouse as a rest stop. When the NWA Land Trust started monitoring the property in 2017 after their conservation easement was put in place by landowner Anne Prichard, data started to be recorded in order to understand more about bird populations here. What species are rare or missing when they ought to be abundant? Are bird populations changing over the years?
Ornithologists can better answer these questions when they have annual data from citizen scientists who count birds. Unfortunately, any data from the farm property itself before 2017 has been lost because the birders during those decades included the numbers with the overall Fayetteville circles, so we don’t know how bird populations looked here in, say, the 1980s. But we now have a great baseline of count data from 2017 – 2022!
Some exciting birds seen here on count days include a merlin, sharp-shinned hawk, cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, eastern meadowlark, red-headed woodpecker, golden-crowned kinglets, barred owls, yellow-rumped warblers, cedar waxwings, a great blue heron, a belted kingfisher, northern flickers, pileated woodpeckers, brown creepers and others. Common feeder birds like cardinals and chickadees are abundant, in part because of seed feeders. Outside of count day, we’ve also witnessed scissor-tailed flycatchers, some nightjars, screech owls, a Wilson’s Snipe, roadrunners, American Kestrel and wood ducks. While some assume they can only be seen seasonally due to migration, bluebirds and robins are visible here year-round.
The Historic Johnson Farm is a fantastic property for a CBC because of its habitat diversity: fields, orchards, the pond, streams, woodland, feeders, and marshy patches. I make sure to visit all of these “living rooms” for wildlife whenever I do a count, and it’s been my pleasure to lead the count here for the past two years. I’m not at all an expert, and barely count myself a birder, but I’m a wildlife enthusiast and living on-site makes it easier to monitor populations. As far as birding goes, I’m learning a lot, and have gotten better at identifying species by not just their appearance but their vocalizations, body movements and what type of habitat they occupy. This year we had snazzy new safety vests, so that hunters would not mistake us for deer. On count day, our traditional lunch is BBQ tempeh burgers on toasted buns with lettuce, tomato and veganaise eaten somewhere out in the field, with a large thermos of black tea to sip throughout the day. If you want to participate in a CBC circle or any other bird citizen science, do it regardless of skill! You can be matched with an experienced birder, or for the more expert, challenge yourself to seek out species you’re unfamiliar with. The most important thing I learned is that it is OK to see a flitting bird or passing flock, and miss the ID. If we don’t go out and try, we’ll miss them all.