Great Backyard Bird Count starts Friday

02/15/2013 6:47 AM

02/15/2013 6:48 AM

Wichitan Kevin Groeneweg spends about 100 days a year birding. His love of all things feathered has taken him to most corners of America and several other countries.

The number of species he’s seen is more than 1,200 and growing.

Dennice Craig does most of her birding in her backyard east of Derby.

“I’m the kind who likes to put out feeders and just sit on my deck and watch,” she said. “I really celebrate when a new bird comes to me.”

For the next four days, the two local birders will join a bird-loving crowd participating worldwide in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The Bird Count, which begins Friday, is asking people of all skills, ages and locations to report what birds they’ve seen, at www.birdsource.org/gbbc. The site and program are sponsored by Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other conservation groups.

Participants can get, as well as give, birding information.

Groeneweg has participated in the count for several years, and enjoys spending time on the site.

“They have real-time maps so I can go on and see where (birds) are and what all is being entered. It’s pretty neat to look at all those numbers,” he said. “It’s giving you a broader cross-section of what’s being seen all over, and not just at birding hot spots.”

Pat Leonard, Cornell’s coordinator for the Bird Count, said what began as an “I wonder how much data we can collect online in a few days” idea has grown to a project that gathered more than 100,000 reports across the U.S. and Canada last year, with over 600 species observed and more than 17.3 million individual birds logged.

This year reports are expected to increase dramatically in number and range, since online tools, like eBird, have widened the event to include the world, and made logging sightings much easier.

Leonard said the program and site are specifically designed to get beginners easily involved, with special sections for children and assorted prizes and contests.

Information that participants can add in a few seconds could be valuable for many years to come.

“If you’re someone doing some kind of (professional) study, we have the kind of widespread database, over a very wide area, that could be of good use,” Leonard said. “You don’t have to be an expert to participate, but you’re helping to gather some expert data.”

As Groeneweg noted, the same detailed information is readily available to anyone who goes to the site. As well as showing long-term bird population and range changes, the site provides current information about what others have recently seen and logged. Some of the details are pretty specific.

“If you want to see where all your beloved purple martins are, you can hit a tab and find out,” Leonard said. “We’ll have a map up where reports are currently being filed. You’ll see little explosions all over the map as people are entering checklists.”

As well as easy, the Bird Count is designed to be pretty low-key, with few concrete rules or tight deadlines.

People have until March 1 to get their sightings from within the count’s four-day period logged. Birders aren’t restricted to their backyards.

Going into the weekend, Groeneweg isn’t sure where he’ll be birding. Some time will probably be spent watching the feeders by his house, but he may spend time in local parks or do a lengthy road trip across Kansas if the weather, migrations and/or a special bird warrant.

Craig recently downloaded a birding application to her iPad that could send her sightings directly to the Bird Count’s site. But other than learning how to use that link to a worldwide database, she has nothing special planned.

“I’ll just look out my window, for 15 or 20 minutes, and see what’s at my feeders,” she said. “I usually do it several times during the day. I’ll be doing my best to count them.”

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