2017-12-28 / Front Page

More birders mean higher bird count

Finding fifty robins
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


NATE CRANE, left with spotting scope, was organizer of this year’s Christmas Bird Count in Leelanau County, aided by Blake Key of Cedar and Mike Jorae of Traverse City. NATE CRANE, left with spotting scope, was organizer of this year’s Christmas Bird Count in Leelanau County, aided by Blake Key of Cedar and Mike Jorae of Traverse City. If quantity was a goal in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, then Alice Vanzoeren hit the jackpot.

She spotted 50 robins in a vineyard on The Whaleback in Leland Township.

“It’s not unusual to spot a few robins this time of year, but seeing 50 of them all together is kind of unusual,” she said.

Vanzoeren said she was also especially happy to spot two red-headed woodpeckers.

Meanwhile, the organizer of the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count in Leelanau County says 2017 may have been a record year for birders in the county – if not for birds.

Birders spotted 63 different species of birds this year, and counted 6,872 individual birds.

Last year, only 44 different species were spotted; and last year’s total individual bird count was not included in the Audubon Society’s worldwide data base.

The main difference in 2017 is that there was a new organizer of the Christmas Bird Count in Leelanau County – the appropriately-named Nate Crane of Traverse City. He enlisted the aid of 22 other Audubon Society members to count birds this year.

Last year, just seven birders were doing the counting, which goes a long way toward explaining why there was a lower count, according to Crane.

Experienced birders point out that it’s not just the number of bird species or individual birds counted in one or two years that’s important. What matters is the aggregate number of birds and bird species counted in hundreds of different areas over many years as part of an effort to track trends in migration and habitat, among many other variables.

The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird count is recognized as the longest-running “citizen science” project in the world. This was Audubon’s 118th year of conducting the count. It’s called the “Christmas Bird Count” but can be conducted anytime between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Here in Leelanau County it was conducted Dec. 20.

All over the world, counts take place in established 15-mile wide diameter circles. In Leelanau County the circle is roughly around Lake Leelanau but includes the width of the county between West Grand Traverse Bay and the main body of Lake Michigan.

Vanzoeren of Maple City was one of the 23 birders out there counting last week.

“We had much better weather than we’ve had in other years,” Vanzoeren said.

Crane said four species were spotted this year that have never been spotted before: the red-shouldered hawk, a merlin a song sparrow, and maybe – just maybe – a northern hawk owl.

However, Kathy Kaczynski of Cedar is not claiming to have spotted a northern hawk owl – but she’s pretty sure she heard one, according to her partner Alison Horton.

“Cathy went out before daylight to listen for owls and didn’t actually see it – but she knows what the northern hawk owl sounds like,” Horton said.

Horton and Kaczynski were assigned to “Section 8” of the circle, not far from where they live. Spotting a northern hawk owl in Leelanau County would be very unusual because they don’t usually visit areas a far south as Leelanau County.

“It’s nice to be able to contribute to something as big as the Christmas Bird Count,” Horton said. “While it’s fun to know what kinds of birds are in our own local area, it’s knowing that you’re part of a cumulative, worldwide effort to build a picture of bird populations that pleases so many of us who participate.”

The ream of data Crane uploaded to the Audubon Society’s data base this year included a count of the 376 miles driven by the 23 participants in Leelanau County, and the 90 minutes spent canoeing. The count was conducted both in daylight and darkness, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

After the last bird was counted, according to Crane, members of the Grand Traverse Audubon Society retired to the Rare Bird Brewpub in Traverse City for some Christmas cheer.

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