This coming weekend marks the return of the Great Backyard Bird Count. From February 14 to the 17th, volunteers around the world will identify and count birds in their yards and communities and then submit those findings to an international data base sponsored by Cornell Labs and the Audubon Society. Last year, 138,000 checklists were submitted worldwide listing 4,258 species of birds.
This is a great citizen science program that has been going on since 1998. It would be great in the classroom, scout groups or parent-student teams and all they have to do is observe, identify and count for 15 minutes or more. The back porch bird feeder is an excellent place to observe. Or take a walk around the neighborhood and write down the birds you see. Submit multiple check lists for different areas if you like.
To get involved, go to http://www.birdcount.org, register and sign in, and start counting and identifying birds. Get out the Bird books for help on the difficult birds or use the identification aids at E-bird or Cornell Labs websites. Then submit your results and compare to what other bird watchers are seeing.
This is valuable information to biologists and others who study bird population dynamics and trends. It can indicate species in decline or in trouble. It can also indicate food shortages or areas of disease such as West Nile. The data base compiled over the last 16 years already shows impressive results. For instance, Evening Grossbeaks used to be common feeder visitors here but now are rarely seen.
Last year more than 45,000 birds of 99 species were counted just in West Virginia. So, get out your binoculars, sign up on the computer, and get ready to be a scientist.
You may even see something unexpected.
Snowy Owls are migrating down out of Canada and a few have been seen in the state. These large, white owls are often seen near the ground, maybe sitting on a fence post as they look for field mice or vole.
During the recent completed deer season, I had occasion to observe some strange behavior in the woods. While on stand I saw a rabbit slowly and quietly work his way through some heavy brush. The thick bushes opened at the base of a big sugar maple where the rabbit came over to inspect a small hole in the ground. He stuck his nose down in the hole to investigate, pulled back, then moved forward a little further into the hole and disappeared.
In a couple of minutes, the rabbit was out and began enlarging the entrance. Located between two roots, the digging was probably difficult but he had apparently found a place he liked. After customizing and landscaping for about 10 minutes, the rabbit hopped off into the brush.
Five minutes later, Mr. Rabbit came tearing through the brush and dived into the hole. I watched closely but there were no predators after him. After a couple of minutes, he hopped out and off into the brush.
Five minutes later there was another leaf rustling, bush shaking charge into the hole. He came out almost instantly.
Slowly the lights began to come on for this hunter as the rabbit sailed through this routine a couple more times. He had found a favored, safe spot. No coyote or fox was likely to dig him out between those tree roots. He could approach it from any direction. All he needed was a little practice.
Who would have thought that a rabbit would “practice” jumping into a hole?
I guess it is hard work being a rabbit and staying alive.
And I bet that particular rabbit has a good thing going and is probably still there.