Welcome to my version of the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). What would Frank Chapman say if he could see how his vision of "counting" birds each Christmas season (instead of shooting the hell out of them in the annual "side hunt") has taken on a life of its own? Yes, I'm sure old Frank would be impressed that the annual "bird census" he helped to start is still going strong and attracting more and more citizen scientists each year. I have been involved since 2006 (four years now) and look forward to this totally odd activity as a part of my Christmas experience. If nothing else, it is a chance to purposely step outdoors into the cold Wisconsin (late-late) fall and breath in the crisp air for the entire day. At best, it is a chance to celebrate all things avian with a few like-minded friends and kindred spirits.
My version always begins with a hearty cup of steaming coffee and a bakery treat while the "strategy" of the day unfolds with those few stalwart souls who have decided to join me. This year's starting off establishment was Cranky Al's Bakery in Wauwatosa, WI. The coffee and baked goods are very tasty and the atmosphere is usually as "cranky" as advertised. This year's CBC participants were; Steve Fronk, Bill and Tammy Bokern and me. Nola and Kay joined the rest of us for a quick cup of beans and then went on to their own errands while the four of us began our official count at Charles Hart Park (around 8:30 AM). The weather was decidedly cold (27 degrees and falling) with a bit of a breeze from the north as we strapped on our binoculars and set off across the walking bridge across the Menomonee River in the heart of "section 20." The CBC is set up in 15 mile "circles" and each of those circles are further subdivided into 1 X 1 mile "squares" depending on the landscape in that single mile. The Milwaukee Circle was coordinated this year by Andrea Szymczak. Interestingly, William Mueller and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) had out an additional request of the CBC'ers to count the amount of free-ranging cats and to report them as well this year. The participants are to "count" the total amount of each species (they are sure of) recorded in their section, to the best of their ability from midnight to midnight. The "offical" turn in date for all data is February 15, 2010. The WIMI circle our little group participated in had established December 19th for the circle as a whole, so that's the date (day) we counted on. WIMI circle has its "turn-in party" beginning at 4:00 PM at the Schlitz Audubon Center the evening of the count. I turned over our count data at around 4:20 with pride and shared a glass of ginger ale; basking in the afterglow of another successful CBC. Doesn't that sound like FUN!?
Section 20 was more than covered by our group of four with some amazing American Robin sightings along with more than a couple of large raptors. The bare branches of the urban woods made the spotting of birds much easier than in the past months leading up to the count...probably another reason for the CBC's December time frame. We covered the "Big Four" first; Hart, Jacobus, Doyne, and Hawthorn Glen. These areas always seem to produce a wide variety and plentiful count. We spent some additional time driving around the "Highlands" with the intention of picking up some stragglers. Steve had left at around 11:00 AM to do some banking and then noon-time came and the Bokerns needed to leave for their own activities, so I went into Section 16; a lone (counting) wolf. Dineen Park is my favorite area of the "more urban" section 16 which includes Enderis Park (my backyard). The park has a large pond feature that is the summer weather home to large numbers of waterfowl. At this time of year however, there are far more American Crows than Canada Geese, but I did spot one individual who had discovered some open water for a quick dip and drink.
Section 16 does feature two of the largest cemeteries in Milwaukee. You'd think that with all that open land, you'd find all the birds you needed to count, but not so. I have been to these two cemeteries: Lincoln Memorial and Holy Cross each year and find them as bereft of avian activity as can be. Gravely speaking; it's really "dead" in each of them. I did however snap a photo of the greatest "tree-topper" ornament ever; an enormous Red-tailed Hawk. I finished up by doing a slow drive throughout the Enderis neighborhood with the window down. I "listen" for bird activity and when I hear something, I investigate accordingly. It's not exact science, but that's what I've always done by myself. Which leads me to the punchline of this particular entry. I encourage those of you who have not counted, to volunteer NEXT year. Make it a priority on your personal calendars...and no, not just the old "until something else comes up."
Consider making the Christmas Bird Count of 2010 YOUR "something else"...it's fun and worthwhile...trust me....Merry Christmas!
Section 20 sightings: