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Christmas Bird Count Bright and Early

Nichole Dupont

The snow geese spotted in South County during last year's CBC.

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Saturday morning, while many of us are still plastered to the bed (or plastered, period), a hardy troupe of South County folks will be up with the sun to brave the elements.

 Their mission: counting birds.

These dedicated bird watchers and citizen scientists are doing their part for the National Audobon Society’s 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which began on Dec. 14, 2010,  and will continue through Jan. 5, 2011. The purpose of the count is to help researchers and conservation biologists study the status of bird populations in North America and in so doing develop strategies to protect bird species and habitats.

Ironically, the count originated when ornithologist Frank Chapman, founder of Audubon magazine, proposed doing a "Christmas Bird Census" as opposed to killing them in a Christmas "side hunt,"  a popular pastime before the turn of the 19th century. Today, the CBC spans from the tip of South America to the Yukon territory, and requires the help of thousands of volunteers.

According to last year's CBC summary, 2,914 volunteers and observers counted 214 species in New England. In South County alone, 20 volunteer observers were able to identify more than 60 species (including two snow geese, a great horned owl and a blue heron, to name a few).

Certainly collecting data is not for the faint of heart. Saturday morning observers will gather at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of Monument Mountain Regional High School. From there they will head out to different observation outposts throughout the area in search of the rare, the common and the beautiful birds of the area. Who knows, maybe there is a new species lurking in your yard.

The Central Berkshire bird count, organized by the Hoffman Bird Club, was held the weekend before Christmas. The South County count will run all day Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear several layers of warm clothing and to bring binoculars or a scope if possible … as well as thermos of hot soup for lunch.

Not all the Berkshire County bird watchers are in the Berkshires. Among the not-so-rare snowbirds is well-known bird authority Dick Ferren of Lenox, who was interviewed for a story about the count on a cold (!) day in Bradenton, Fla.

The retired Berkshire Community College professor told Bradenton.com, "Some people are on chemical drugs, some are on electric drugs like TV and video games, and other people are drunk on nature. Some of us are addicted to birds."

Bird addicts can find out more information on the South County count by calling Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary at 413-637-0320, or just show up at the high school Saturday morning ready to search.

More information on what's been seen so far across the state and Western Mass. can be found here.

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