The weather outside looked frightful, but that didn’t stop the nearly 100 birders and nature enthusiasts who got up with — and for — the birds on Sunday morning to participate in the 117th annual Christmas Bird Count, the longest running wildlife census on the planet.
“The count happens rain or shine or snow,” said Debra Kriensky, Conservation Biologist, NYC Audubon, who coordinated the Central Park event on Sunday, Dec. 18. “Rain is not ideal for birding, but our job is just to count whatever is there!”
The longstanding winter tradition to count birds during the holidays rather than to hunt them was ornithologist Frank M. Chapman’s idea.
Rachel Goldberg, Gerald Slevin and their daughter, Sparrow, who, at just fourteen months old, was on her second Count, drove in from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, to help with the national conservation effort.
Arriving at a name for their newborn came naturally for the bird lovers. Gerald, a musician, “would sing Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sparrow’ to me while I was pregnant,” said Goldberg. “At some point, we both thought ‘of course, that’s the baby’s name.’”
The three were reunited with friends from previous Counts: Abby Goldstein and her daughter, Sadie, 12, who traveled uptown from Tribeca.
Sadie, wearing owl socks for the occasion, got the birding bug after studying them in second-grade at P.S. 234—a class her older brother, who had to miss this year’s Count because of a hockey game commitment, had also taken.
Expert and novice birders who assembled at the South Pump Station of the Reservoir chose one of seven sectors covering the park’s terrain, and each group designated someone to compile the numbers. For the Ramble, that was Goldstein.
“You can’t spot and keep count at the same time, and they’re all better at birding than I am,” she said.
Through the light drizzle and lifting fog, with Goldberg holding the wide-eyed baby Sparrow on what she knows will be a “fun treasure hunt,” the Ramble crew showed off their knowledge — exactly what the day called for.
“One female hairy woodpecker!”
“Two northern cardinals!”
“Got it, got it.” Abby assured the gang that their sightings were noted.
“OMG, it’s a Fox Sparrow! It’s really cool. Wait, there are two!” Slevin yelled, and then directed Sadie to where he’d spotted them.
This time of year is the only time you’ll see them, so you want to see them, explained Sgt. Jessica Correa, the group’s Urban Park Ranger escort.
Four-plus hours, one perched juvenile hawk, and many tufted titmice and house sparrows later, the Ramble sector met up with the others at the Central Park Arsenal — one of two buildings that predate the park itself — for hot soup and even hotter data.
Among comparisons to last year’s Count, there appeared to be nearly double the number of northern cardinals, about fifty additional blue jays, significantly more titmice, and way fewer house finches.
“Changes from year to year are pretty common, so increases and decreases should be taken with a grain of salt,” said Kriensky. “What is more important are trends over the long term, which National Audubon is analyzing across the range of the Christmas Bird Count, and we keep track of for our Central Park Count.”
And then, perhaps the crème de la crème of bragging rights — rare sightings not on the list. Those unexpected visitors, as Kriensky called them, that people love to hear about and like to find even more. Mentions of the Killdeer, Iceland Gull, and American Wigeon elicited oohs and aahs that could rival those at a bridal shower.
Our election process should be so organized.
Go to http://www.nycaudubon.org/christmas-bird-count for more information about NYC Audubon and the Christmas Bird Count.
The Christmas Bird Count continues through January 5, 2017.