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Column: 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count—In Reston

In case you missed it, the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count took place Feb. 14 to the 17th. This 4-day event takes place in February every year across the county—and last year saw participation expand into 110 other countries. This amazing example of citizen science in action engages birders of all ages in a count that helps create a real time snapshot of bird populations just before birds start their migration back to the north.

The GBBC is sponsored in the United States by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Anyone from beginner (I’m a beginner plus) to expert can take part, dedicating whatever amount of time works for you over the 4-day stretch—15 minutes to many hours for some. The sponsors have organized it so that it is easy to fill out a checklist of birds observed and promptly record your data at www.birdcount.org. Checklists sent in help researchers at Cornell, Audubon and elsewhere learn more about how birds are doing, and where action may be indicated to protect them. I enjoyed participating in the Count with a lively group at Reston’s lovely Walker Nature Education Center led by expert birders Bill Brown and Joanne Bauer of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. (Full disclosure—Bill, Joanne and I are all members of the ASNV Board of Directors). It was my second GBBC. There were 26 in this year’s group at the Nature Center—12 cub scouts, 8 parents and friends, 2 other adults, and 4 leaders.

Our walk commenced at the bird feeder viewing area inside the Nature Center managed by Reston Association’s Katie Shaw. Participants got an introductory briefing followed by a two-hour walk through the snowy woods and down to Lake Audubon (appropriately enough!) and back. The deep snow and sunny skies provided a good visual setting for locating and identifying birds. And see them we did! In just over two hours, the group recorded 246 birds and 28 species identified. Many of the youngsters and several of the adults were taking an organized bird walk for the first time. You could see and feel their excitement. It got better as we progressed, as boys and girls and first-time adults recognized more birds with repeated sightings. We saw everything from huge Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures to Mallards, Lesser Scaups and Ring-necked Gulls to Northern Cardinals,

White-breasted Nuthatches, Hermit Thrushes and tiny Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees. Mr. Brown also showed participants how to enter their data right into the national count at birdcount.org.

I have no idea yet what the local area, state and national numbers will show this year, but if the Nature Center team in Reston is any indication, the numbers may surpass last year’s record-setter. In 2013, the Great Backyard Bird Count counted 134,935 checklists submitted recording 3,610 species identified and 34,512,432 birds spotted. National Geographic recently published a story on the 2013 GBBC complete with several of their beautiful pictures of some of the birds. For more information on this year’s count, simply Google Great Backyard Bird County or go to the www.audubonva.org. And, you might want to join in next year and become a citizen scientist.