Christmas count is season’s gift to birdwatchers

For us avid birdwatchers, who venture into the woods, fields, swamps and other wild places all year long to see birds, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) at year’s end is the biggest, best-known birding event of the year — our Super Bowl.

Georgia’s 2018-2019 CBC season, which began on Dec. 15, ended last weekend with the Intown Atlanta CBC — one of more than 25 Christmas Bird Counts held across the state this season.

For the Atlanta count, it was another good year — a total of 89 species tallied during the day, although shy of last year’s record of 93, said Joy Carter, the count’s coordinator. “The results show that highly urbanized Atlanta can have as many bird species as rural areas,” she noted.

To find the birds, more than 70 birders (including me) with the Atlanta Audubon Society divided into 12 teams and fanned out across the city within a 15-mile-diameter circle centered near Ponce de Leon Avenue and Briarcliff Road.

Some of the day’s notable sightings included a peregrine falcon, American kestrel, several red-breasted nuthatches, vesper sparrow and a summer tanager, which is unusual for Atlanta during winter. A low point was when a blue-headed vireo pooped on one of the birders (which elicited giggles from her comrades.)

It’s all part of what makes a Christmas Bird Count the highlight of the year — a Super Bowl for birders, if you will. Count teams engage in friendly competition to come up with the highest number of bird species for the day and perhaps set new count records.

The camaraderie is one of the best parts. Last weekend, at the end of our day, we Atlanta birders gathered, as we do every year, at Carter’s home for a “counting party” to compare notes, report totals and swap tall tales from the day’s adventures — and enjoy hot soup and chili.

The results of all CBCs are compiled into a nationwide data pool to help researchers gauge the status of birds and the health of the planet.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first-quarter on Monday. Venus rises in the east a few hours before sunrise. Mars is low in the southwest at dusk and will appear near the moon tonight. Jupiter and Saturn are low in the east just before sunrise.