Valley bird lovers join in the 114th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count
More than 120 intrepid souls will count all the birds they can see in the field, by car or at the feeder for the 114th annual Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count.
The Pittsburgh-area count will be on Dec. 28, while a number of regional counts started Dec. 14 and continue until Jan. 5.
Highly skilled amateurs, novices and professional ornithologists will tally the cardinals, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, sparrows and other species for the world's longest-running volunteer biological survey.
For this local census of birds, counters will also look for more unusual specimens such as the snowy owl, the day-flying, 2-foot-tall, white owl from the Arctic that has been visiting the northeastern portion of the country.
“We're not only looking for rare birds,” said Brian Shema, compiler of the Pittsburgh bird count and operations director for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.
“We set out to count the common birds,” he said. “It's only through these efforts that we can think about the needs of our common birds.
“All of those birds can be indicators of environmental conditions and changes.”
Watchers will look for year-round residents and migrants that frequent area rivers in the winter as well as woods and fields.
For wildlife photographer Steve Gosser of New Kensington, leading the bird count in Indiana Township on Saturday is “a great way to give back to birding conservation efforts and knowledge.”
Gosser expects to cover close to 3 miles on foot.
“There's going to be a good bit of driving around, hopping out of the car, and rolling down the car window and listening,” he said.
Other bird counts throughout the region took place in the last week or so.
Birders turned up 20 common mergansers — sleek, diving ducks — along Buffalo Creek from Freeport to Worthington, according to Shema.
The Dec. 14 count in the Buffalo Valley, which covers Buffalo, North Buffalo, South Buffalo and Winfield townships, Freeport and nearby communities, turned up winter wrens, the smaller, darker relative of the bubbly Carolina wren; swamp sparrows; American kestrels, and others.
Snow showers dampened birding in the afternoon, but the hardy volunteers were able to tally about 40 species for the count, which typically averages 50 species, according to Shema.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.