Christmas Bird Counting

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

This past weekend was not really a good time to go out on a nature expedition.  Duty called, however, since the Middletown Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, despite almost two feet of snow on the ground, a declared state of emergency in Delaware, and mostly unplowed roads.  Since I am an area leader, I was obligated to take a stab at doing the count.  My wife thought I was crazy.  I probably would have stayed home and enjoyed a nice fire and football games, but my four-wheel drive vehicle was begging to get out, so I headed down to my area near Delaware City.

Typically, I don’t go birding when the Delaware National Guard are roving around in Humvees, abandoned vehicles lay scattered along roadsides, waist-high snow drifts await my discovery, and biting winds produce sideways icicles.  If a little tiny sparrow can survive out there, so could I!    Birds effortlessly found seeds on top of the snow.  Perhaps it is easier than finding brown seeds in brown dirt.  Maybe seed-eating birds welcome the snow!  Gulls floated in the choppy Delaware Bay waters.  Hawks cruised by in the high winds, and Canada Geese were flying around everywhere looking for a good place to land and feed.  There was very little real estate around that wasn’t under deep snow.

Sideways icicles line the railing at the waterfont in Delaware City for the Middletown Christmas Bird Count.
Sideways icicles line the railing at the waterfont in Delaware City for the Middletown Christmas Bird Count.

Derek Stoner also made it down that afternoon and counted birds around Lums Pond State Park.  He reported seeing small patches of open water, where Bald Eagles waited to pick off plump American Coots.   Mostly limited to where we could drive, the birding was slow, but Derek Stoner and I managed to find about 60 species.

A Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis, sits on the snow near its namesake, the Delaware Bay.
A Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis, sits on the snow near its namesake, the Delaware Bay.

Christmas Bird Counts yield tremendous amounts of data about early winter bird populations across the Western Hemisphere.  The National Audubon Society compiles this information for science.  This is the 110th-annual count, and is a lot of fun to participate in.  It is a great excuse to get outside during the holiday season and anyone can participate, whether you are good at bird identification or not.  Inexperienced birders are usually paired with those more experienced.  You can even sit in your living room to avoid sideways icicles and count birds that come to your feeders if you live within one of the 15-mile-wide count circles.  If you would like to join a Christmas Bird Count in Delaware this winter, check out the Delmarva Ornithological Society’s website, www.dosbirds.org to see how to participate.  For the Milford and Seaford Counts, look at http://sussexbirdclub.com/

Milford – December 26; Bombay Hook – December 27; Wilmington – December 29; Seaford – January 1; Rehoboth – January 2; Cape Henlopen/Prime Hook – January 3.

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