Provided by Roger LeBlanc
Is birding an important part of your family’s holiday traditions? It is for members of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, who annually participate in a unique outdoor experience, the Nokesville Christmas Bird Count. Forget the partridge in a pear tree; county residents are taking time to participate in a scientifically recognized bird census to track species health over time.
The Christmas Bird Count tradition was originally a response to the Christmas Side Hunt, where men would compete with their neighbors to hunt for the largest number of birds around the holidays. Early pioneer of the Audubon Society, ornithologist Frank Chapman, decided in 1900 that he would start a bird count to study the long-term health of bird species across North America. Christmas Bird Counts have been occurring all of over the country for more than 100 years.
The Christmas Bird Count is the oldest and largest citizen science event, which is when the general public supports the work of professional scientists by collecting data about the natural world. Citizen science is a great way for families to learn and connect to the environment in their own backyards.
“The count is hugely helpful to scientists studying habits and trends of birds over time,” says Kim Hosen, Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, “the people who lead the teams are careful of their data, as it contributes to a nationwide database where we can search information from bird counts all around the country.”
The Prince William Conservation Alliance spearheaded the local Christmas Bird Count in 2008. The program has grown to attract over 50 participants per year, and relies entirely on donations from the community to operate.
“Everyone is welcome,” says Hosen, “We match beginners with confident birders who lead each team.”
This year’s count took place on December 26th. After the survey, participants gathered for a celebratory meal at the Merrimac Farm Stone House. Information on the nearly 100 species of birds (including the Tufted Titmouse, the Carolina Chickadee, and the Eastern Bluebird) observed annually can be found on the Prince William Conservation Alliance website (pwconserve.org).
Every year participants are shocked to find one of the most majestic sightings at a surprising location. The Prince William County Landfill has the largest number of bald eagle sightings for the local bird count.
It’s no accident that the landfill has become a haven for these birds. The Prince William Solid Waste Division is building unique environmental sustainability programs. The landfill is becoming the site of an Eco Park Complex, which will encompass the Outdoor Discovery Trails, as well as protected wetlands and streams. Future anticipated projects include a net-zero energy education center that will empower students to solve today’s environmental challenges through hands-on activities and STEM investigations.
Want to learn more about birds in your area? Check out the Prince William Conservation Alliance’s calendar of events (pwconserve.org/events/index.html) to find other ways to be involved – including a bird walk on the last Sunday of every month, which is open to the public.