The Audubon Christmas Bird Count, a data-collecting activity involving the counting of hundreds of native bird species, rolls into Nashua and Hollis this week, and you can be part of the research efforts.
The counts have been going on nationally for more than 100 years and are usually held from mid-December through early January. Twenty-one organized counts have been scheduled throughout New Hampshire this year, with the Nashua-Hollis count happening throughout the day on Friday, Dec. 30.
The first Christmas Bird Counts were held back in the year 1900, when 26 were held nationwide as a hunting alternative. Jim Kegley of the New Hampshire Audubon’s Nashaway Chapter has been in charge of counting his assigned section of southeast Nashua since 1992.
“The Nashua-Hollis Bird Count has been consistently held since 1965 … but birding and bird-watching in general is becoming increasingly popular,” he said. “Because of how long I’ve been doing it, I’ve been able to witness the change in terms of data collection and data storage and one’s access to it, and [its popularity] has been expanding into more and more communities.”
Each of the 21 counts across the Granite State is open to all interested bird-watchers. Kegley said each one takes place in a designated “count circle” on a specific day, with a coordinator assigning teams of birders to count in each section of that circle. But if you happen to live within that circle, you can simply count birds that appear in your own backyard.
Each count circle is about 15 miles in diameter around a central point. Count coordinators are available to help pair less experienced and first-time counters with those more experienced and knowledgeable in identifying birds.
“Birds are predictable in terms of habit. … For the most part, they stay in a certain area, which is why [bird counting] is sort of an acceptable science,” he said. “The results may not be exactly precise, but nevertheless it’s a valuable science for data collection. … In a single day, most birds don’t travel much, so it decreases the chances that you’d be counting double.”
Kegley said almost every kind of bird is fair game to be included in your tallying, with the exception of domesticated birds like parakeets and parrots, as well as certain kinds of geese and other water fowl.
“If you’ve got something that’s unusual, like an exotic species of bird that is more known to be from another part of the country, you have to document it,” he added. “Both photographs or drawings are acceptable.”
When you have finished with your counting for the day, you can meet other birders in the Spear Room at the Beaver Brook Association’s Maple Hill Farm in Hollis at 5 p.m. for dinner, refreshments and the official tallying of everyone’s findings. A $5 fee will be collected per person to attend the dinner.
“The evening is always fun because you get to hear what kind of surprises and adventures people had during the day,” Kegley said. “You start to realize the patterns that people see, and there’s some suspense and excitement that people share about their experiences.”
The dinner is also when everyone’s results are officially gathered and entered into the Audubon database, Kegley said. Nashua-Hollis Bird Count organizer Richard Bielawski will submit them electronically so that the number of birds counted and the number of participating counters can be compared to other counts across the state. If you are unable to attend the dinner, you can simply email or text your tallies to Bielawski anytime beforehand, Kegley said.
“It’s also kind of fun to meet some of the other people that do it, because some have been doing it for so long that it’s become something of a holiday tradition for them,” he said. “There’s a real sense of community that people have.”
For more information on finding a count circle, visit nhbirdrecords.org and click on the “resources” tab. From there, contact information for each count organizer is available.