Our 112th consecutive Christmas Bird Count for London will be held on Saturday, December 19, 2020. That is in keeping with doing the London Count on the first Saturday of the Count Period, which always starts on the 14th of the month. It will continue an unbroken tradition that has been going since 1909, the longest such record in Canada. Since the year 1910 it has been run by Nature London and the club provides the Compiler, acting as an organizer for Birds Canada under the Audubon Society. However, we often have members from other local Clubs and independent participants.
Christmas Counts are an all-day bird survey of a set area. They take place across North and South America, and the results help to locate where the birds are wintering at the time of each Count. A compiler such as myself runs the Count in each locality. We often have one of the top 10 numbers of participants for all Canadian Counts. This Citizen Science project of the Audubon Society, to whom we send our results, is well respected and their database is used to research projects such as bird populations and winter dispersal, and to help with bird conservation. It is a project managed by Birds Canada in country who assist the Compilers here. For more information go to the National Audubon website or Birds Canada site, and look for Christmas Bird Count.
It will be challenging to be able to put on the event this year, due to the potential threat from Covid-19 and with the necessary restrictions for social distancing and other precautions. I believe that we will be able to run the Count safely if we conduct ourselves according to those restrictions. But I believe unless we are again under “stay at home” orders, we can run the Count in one way or another, perhaps with fewer participants.
Some of the precautions and changes in procedure will be as follows.
We will not be having the usual Potluck after the Count, sadly missing the great gathering and mouth-watering dishes which are always present. All lists will be sent to me via the internet at my email address.
I recommend that if the other participants in your group are not members of your “bubble”, that is, people who you regularly and safely come in contact with, that you keep socially distanced, do not car pool, and wear masks where appropriate. If you have any doubts about whether you have come in contact with someone who is infected think about forgoing this outing. For instance, if you have gone to a restaurant in the days before the Count, you may not be sure that you have not picked up the virus as those are places which have been shown to spread the disease, so I would recommend not associating with other participants unless you wear a mask, even outdoors, or do not participate. There are ways to divide up the responsibilities on the route so that people do not come in contact with each other. Certainly, if you feel any of the symptoms of Covid, please do not attend. Team leaders and coordinators, please discuss these ideas with your groups.
I will be in touch with all who have recently taken part in the Count, to see if they would like to continue to participate. If you are among those people who have taken part and have not heard from me by the end of November, please get in touch with me or the team leaders. And if you are new to our Club, or have not taken part before, and want to help, keep reading to find out how to participate and contact me.
You can take part by joining one of the many walking groups who follow a set route within the approximately 25 km diameter of the CBC circle, which is centered on Reservoir Park, located at the top of the hill up from Springbank Park, on Commissioner’s Road West. We work together in these parties to record the species and numbers of each bird found. Also, we record the distance and time we are in the field. Unless we go separate ways as we walk, such as each person taking a different path in the woods, the time and distance is recorded for the whole group, and as well, one total for the numbers of birds. If you are separate, combine your lists to submit one total for your route. Our routes are well-established in most cases, so are mainly covered by individuals who have been doing the same one for many years. Some turnover happens every year though, so openings should occur for new participants. And I am pretty good at establishing new routes to help cover more area.
Another way you can take part, especially if you are worried about Covid, is to count the birds at your feeders. Again, you count the species by their total number. As many birds within a species are identical, such as Black-capped Chickadees, it becomes a bit difficult to discern how many different birds are visiting. With some practice over the week before the Count, you might be able to figure out how many birds are actually coming during the day. If you go outside and watch where the birds go when they leave the feeder, you can determine if the same bird is coming back and forth giving the illusion of multiple birds. I have nuthatches which leave the feeder with a seed or two and go to a tree to eat them, and then they return many times during several visits during the day. If I just counted nuthatches coming to the feeder without knowing that I would count way too many. If you remain indoors, to avoid disturbing the birds or to keep warm, a general rule is to watch for the most of any species coming to the feeder at one time. And not count any more of that species. Also, if you count first thing in the morning you should be able to count all the regulars. I suggest you spend about an hour doing that, and then watch on and off during the day to see if any new species shows up. We need to also tally the total time that we spend watching. Your feeders must be in the London Count Circle to be able to take part in this way. The Circle is mapped at this link:
and is interactive so you can zoom in. To do a quick zoom, enter London, Ontario in the search area of the page and then zoom in to see more detail when the London map is displayed. And for sure fill the feeders the night before so you don’t have to disturb the birds during your observations.
Finally, there are some of the routes which are roadside surveys. A set of roads in part of the Circle will be covered, with regular stops to check different habitats along those roads. Some of those stops might include short walks into woods or along the road through a habitat. Stops by roadside creeks could find Song Sparrows in grasses along the waterway, for instance. Again, numbers of each species are recorded as well as the time and distance. The effort, that is, the time and the distance, must be divided up into walking and driving portions and submitted separately. Again, you should not car-pool with other participants unless you are in their “bubble”. It is not acceptable to just have each person wear a mask in the car. Nocturnal routes must be registered to avoid overlap, and a separate set of results need to be kept, including species, numbers and time and distance.
Forms will be sent out for each of these aspects, which can be filled in and then sent to me upon completion of the Count. This form also gives a space to record general route observations, such as weather conditions, depth of snow, and amount of food crops. These are optional but would help when I send in the Count data. One form per group will be submitted so whoever sends it in should include all participant names and email addresses (if acceptable by the participants).
For all ways of participation mentioned above, it is not only fun to find our interesting winter birds, but there is the potential for finding the rare and unusual species, ones that are here irregularly or have never before seen on our Count. We always have some of those seen every year. In that case, the officials require us to provide details for such species. These details must give irrefutable proof that the species was there, to avoid inaccurate lists. That proof is easy if you bring a camera, as photo evidence is generally acceptable as proof, and so I would recommend bringing some sort of camera that can take a decent picture at distance. Barring that, a written description, detailing all pertinent aspects of the bird’s plumage, and behaviour, perhaps even with an included sketch, must point out all the bird’s identifying points and show amount of time viewed, and distance from the bird, and distinctions from other similar species. Study the birds which are similar before going out. Do you know the differences between Chipping Sparrows and American Tree Sparrows, and between Purple Finches and House Finches? A rare bird form will be available to fill in should you require it. Not everyone in your group needs to see the rare bird, but one way to help determine the validity of your sighting is if others also see it. They can contribute to the one rare bird form or fill in their own form.
So please get in touch with me to be placed on a team, to do a driving route, or to count at your feeders. Even if I cannot put you on a route, as it might already have enough people for adequate coverage or the conditions don’t allow for that, such as on a driving route, or increased Covid restrictions, I might be able to think of a new area to be covered, such as your own neighbourhood. I do try to put people in routes close to their home, as it is winter, and the conditions might preclude long travel. And if you prefer to count your feeders, let me know where you live so we can see if you are within the Circle.
Although it is an all-day event, many of the routes are for only a few hours, so also let me know the length of time you have for participating. And although I want to be as inclusive as I can, most walking routes require good mobility so participants need to be in good physical condition able to walk sometimes rough trails in a wooded setting. If you have mobility issues and want to participate, perhaps count at your feeders or at a friend’s feeder, or let me know and if you have transportation to trails that are for instance, wheelchair accessible, maybe we can set up an outing for you.
In a way, it can be a learning experience, so even novices are welcome to apply to help, but since we need accurate identification of birds and there are limited spaces on most of the teams, I might not be able to place everyone who just wants to learn, especially this year, and if Covid restrictions tighten we might not be able to place anyone in a group setting. But I would encourage you to still apply.
Besides taking precautions for Covid, I have a couple other things to mention due to the time of year, and because some of the routes are rural. If you go out, whether you are walking or on a driving route, do not go alone. Get a partner or partners and observe social distance requirements and wear masks if your team is not within your “bubble”, even if the person is not interesting in birding. Remember to bring your phone and dress according to the weather. It is wise to have water and snacks and bring a first aid kit. A camera is a great tool, in case you find a rarity and have to write a detailed rare bird report. It is also good to let others know where you are going to be, and when to expect to hear from you, especially if on a rural route. Check your car for gas and do have an emergency winter kit on board.
We do not cancel the Count, no matter the weather, as we would not be able to shift the date. If the weather is inclement or dangerous, do not risk your safety – stay home. You might be able to get out later in the day for a partial coverage of your area. Or consider not going to your route, but rather walk about near your home if you live in the Count Circle. Ultimately you are responsible for your own safety during the Count so please take care and be cautious.
For a view of our last CBC results, or to see our Count Circle, you can go on the Audubon Society website and research the 2019 year. If you have any questions or are new to the Count, please get in touch.
London CBC Compiler (since 1983)
Home phone 519-472-2887