Balded Eagle

WINGED WONDERS

December 27, 2013

Source: Monroe News

By: Suzanne Nolan Wisler

Most people know what a snowy owl looks like thanks to “Harry Potter.”

The mostly white bird is the young magician’s companion and helper.

But around these parts, they’re not common sights. They generally make their homes north of mid-Michigan and into Canada.

But this year, local birders made what they conside an exciting find — a snowy owl near Ida.

Nick Assenmacher and his family spotted the owl atop a utility pole and lines and in the adjacent field after it caught a mouse, said Jerry Jourdan, who compiles local results for the annual Christmas Bird Count, which was held Dec. 21.

It’s the first snowy owl to be recorded in the local count’s 44-year history, he said.

The veteran birder, however, said he wasn’t surprised at the sighting. Snowy owls are being seen more regularly in the Great Lakes region.

Just as decorating Christmas trees and getting together with family and friends has become a Christmas tradition, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a tradition for bird-watching enthusiasts. The national event sponsored by the National Audubon Society has been taking place since 1900.

Monroe County has been involved for 44 years, said Mr. Jourdan, who’s tabulated local results since 1980.

This year’s Monroe-area count was held on a rainy Dec. 21 with 25 people participating.

Besides the snowy owl, the count officially recorded the area’s first white-winged scoter, rough-legged hawk and red-shouldered hawk, said Mr. Jourdan.

The CBC is the “largest single citizen science event in the world,” said the Erie Shores Birding Association, longtime local count sponsors.

“Participation helps contribute to the most comprehensive, longest-running database in ornithology, which provides valuable information regarding the distribution and abundance of early winter bird populations all over the Western Hemisphere,” the association said.

It all began as a way to save birds.

That long-ago Christmas Day, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed the Christmas Bird Census as an alternative to the annual Christmas Side Hunt, which encouraged participants to shoot birds and bring in the largest pile of feathers.

The 1900 count involved 27 birders and 25 circles from Toronto to Pacific Grove, Calif. Participants counted 90 species.

Christmastime was chosen as it marks the end of fall migration.

Today, more than 50,000 birders throughout the Western Hemisphere participate in 1,700 counts. Birds can be counted for two days before and after the count date, said Mr. Jourdan, and counting at all times of day is encouraged.

“Typically we have between 15 to 25 helping to count as many birds and species in the 15-mile radius count circle over a 24-hour period,” said Mr. Jourdan.

He enjoys looking back at the count’s history and sees encouraging news among bird populations.

In 2006, Monroe produced 82 species, the highest in the state.

“The Monroe count consistently places in the top three or four counts in the state in terms of number of species, and most years, No. 1 in terms of total numbers,” said Mr. Jourdan.

This year, participants counted 74 species.

“If you look at the historical data, it is interesting to see how the count has developed over the years. We have early records of such birds as barn owls, snowy owls and rails that have not been seen in the county for over 20 years,” he said.

“We are beginning to record species that are typically wintering in more southern states, like great egrets and northern mockingbirds,” Mr. Jourdan said.

“Bald eagles have made a dramatic recovery the past 10 years, and the Monroe Power Plant and its warm-water discharge has contributed to the recovery by providing wintering grounds for the birds. A few years ago we counted over 200 bald eagles during our Christmas Count.”

This year, they counted 103 eagles.