Birders sought for second annual area bird count Friday

Carmen GeorgeDecember 20, 2012 

Birders are being called to fan out across Eastern Madera County on Friday, armed with their trusty binoculars, for the second annual Christmas bird count.

The National Audubon Society's Christmas bird counts are one of the nation's oldest citizen science efforts, begun 112 years ago as an alternative to Christmas bird hunts, competitions where hunters would shoot as many birds as possible -- resulting in the number of bird species rapidly declining by the turn of the century.

While Christmas bird counts have been held for many years in Mariposa and Yosemite National Park, this is only the second year there has been a count in Eastern Madera County -- thanks to birders Vern Johnson and Joe Frank of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society who spearheaded the effort.

The duo encourage residents interested in helping count birds to join them at 7 a.m. Friday in Oakhurst's Burger King on Highway 41. Birding experience is not necessary to participate, Johnson said.

Participants will be divided into six teams, who will each cover a different zone, including the areas of Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Bass Lake, Ahwahnee/Nipinnawasee, Highway 41 North, including the Sierra Sky Ranch, Cedar Valley and Nelder Grove areas, and if possible, Thornberry Road to Teaford Saddle, Mudge Ranch and Goat Mountain.

"We're hoping for good weather and a little more coverage this year -- there's some areas in higher elevations we didn't get to last year," said Johnson, an Oakhurst resident for 32 years who's been bird watching for more than four decades.

"Our bird count has a 15-mile diameter that is centered on Oakhurst Elementary School, which is a pretty big diameter to cover. Some birders do a lot by foot and some do a lot by car, so it just kind of depends on the area and how much time you have."

The Oakhurst area bird count is one of more than 2,000 Christmas bird counts throughout the U.S. and Canada.

"This can be a great time for birding in California, as many birds from the north have migrated into our area to spend the winter," Johnson said.

Last year, the Eastern Madera County Christmas bird count brought in 17 participants that counted 94 species of birds. Last weekend, 15 people participated in the Mariposa bird count and saw 89 species, and about 41 people participated in the Yosemite National Park count and saw 41 species.

Data collected from the Christmas Bird Count event has resulted in more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, reports the National Audubon Society.

Audubon's analysis of Christmas bird count data include its 2009 report -- "Common Birds in Decline," and its 2009 report -- "Birds & Climate Change."

Many entities have used, and continue to use, Christmas bird count data for analysis, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, many state departments of natural resources, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the United States Air Force, universities in the U.S. and Canada and many nonprofit organizations.

Clipboards, bird lists and maps will be provided Friday morning to those participating in the Eastern Madera County bird count. Participants should bring a packed lunch and dress in warm layers, Johnson said.

Participants will meet again at sundown, about 5 p.m., at Burger King to turn in their bird lists. Some participants also opt to go owling early in the morning or late at night. Audubon is waiving the $5 fee to participate in the Christmas bird count this year, although donations may still be accepted.

"Each year, from December 14 through January 5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations," stated the National Audubon Society on christmasbirdcount.org.

"Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission -- often before dawn. For over 100 years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the holiday season."

Details: Vernon Johnson, (559) 683-6994, or Joe Frank, (559) 683-5398.

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