Teams of dedicated birders trudged up a mountain, sloshed through marshes — and pounded the concrete — in west Cobb County last weekend to count birds. We were taking part in the daylong Atlanta area Christmas Bird Count, one of 26 such surveys across Georgia this holiday season.
Some of the counters were out in shivering cold at 5 a.m. in hopes of seeing or hearing an owl. “We got the three common species — screech, great horned and barred owls,” said Bob Zaremba of Marietta, who with his wife, Deb, led the annual count.
Later in the morning, several of us met Zaremba at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park for an easy, but cold, walk up and around the mountain to conduct that leg of the survey.
Zaremba is well-familiar with Kennesaw’s birds. He leads numerous walks there in spring and fall to observe migrating warblers, which favor the mountain as a feeding and resting stop.
“Today, we’re looking for all birds,” he told us as we began our walk. Even before we got out of the visitors center parking lot, we were training our binoculars on a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers, a red-bellied woodpecker and a downy woodpecker.
Along a wooded trail, we spied a winter wren and a hermit thrush in tangles of shriveled vines. In a clearing we were thrilled by a young red-shouldered hawk sitting on a white oak tree limb.
Nearby was a small flock of Eastern bluebirds and a lone yellow-bellied sapsucker.
And we spotted a large red-tailed hawk in a loblolly pine.
The annual count area covers a 15-mile-diameter circle centered at Due West Elementary School in Marietta.
It encompasses a variety of habitats, including hardwood forests, marshes, forested slopes, old fields, creek banks and suburban yards. The circle is divided into 16 areas with a birding team assigned to each. During the 24 hours, teams tally all the birds they see or hear in their areas.
With nearly all teams reporting, the preliminary total for the day was 86 species — an average number, Zaremba said. The total number of individual birds was about 10,000.
Zaremba noted that the marshes, bone-dry in recent years because of a searing drought, are brimming with water again because of this year’s record rainfall. As a result, many marsh birds have returned. “We saw, for instance, a Virginia rail, which we had not seen for a while,” Zaremba said.
Another highlight: About 500 sandhill cranes flying high overhead.
In the sky: Once in a blue moon we have, well, a blue moon. The full moon Thursday will be the second full moon of December, and thus a blue moon, said David Dundee, astronomer with Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. In some ancient cultures, a blue moon was considered a time for prayer and meditation. Elsewhere, Mercury is low in the west just after dark and sets about an hour later. Mars rises out of the east about 10 p.m. Jupiter is high in the south at sunset and sets in the west about midnight. Saturn rises out of the east about an hour after midnight.
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