Let the bird counting begin! - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Let the bird counting begin!

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Mandy Zajac writes and edits arts, entertainment and lifestyle content for the Get Out section of the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012 3:00 pm

In my neighborhood, bird sightings are among the news we share: “We must have had a dozen peach-faced lovebirds on our wall this morning.” “Have you heard that woodpecker working on the palm trees?” “The quail family has chicks again!” “Did you see the Harris’ hawks got another pigeon?”

Most of us — as far as I know — aren’t intrepid bird enthusiasts; we just like knowing the little creatures are making a go of it around the neighborhood. But this weekend, our observations could amount to more than driveway chit-chat. They could become scientific research.

The Great Backyard Bird Count begins today. The annual four-day event asks bird watchers of all ages and skill levels to submit bird sightings and help create a real-time snapshot of birds across the continent. It’s led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

Local group Desert Rivers Audubon Society will kick things off 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a birding hotspot.

“This is an opportunity for anyone and everyone to contribute to an enormous citizen science database,” says Eileen Kane, Desert Rivers spokeswoman.

The information collected by everyday people during the count is used by ornithologists and conservation biologists to monitor bird populations. In 2011, “citizen scientists” submitted more than 92,000 checklists and counted more than 11 million birds across North America.

“It’s such an easy project,” says Kane. “You pick a place to watch birds, time yourself for 15 minutes, or longer if you wish, and record every bird you see. So you could sit on your couch and watch out the window, you could come out to Gilbert Riparian Preserve, you could sit with a friend in their backyard, you could go on a hike. It’s all valid data.”

At the preserve, which has a lake surrounded by wetland vegetation, visitors will likely spy “water” birds not commonly seen in the Valley’s urban and suburban spaces.

“Some of the birds you’ll see there are a pair of osprey,” says Kane. “It’s a bird of prey with a white head and a black stripe. They’re quite striking.”

But, she says, “what people usually need help with are all the little brown birds that come to our feeders. We’ll help people identify those.”

Anyone can participate in the count. It’s free, and no registration is required. Observations can be done in backyards, neighborhood green spaces, parks — anywhere there are birds. Participants tally the birds they see, then submit a checklist at www.birdcount.org.

Data is uploaded to the site as the count progresses, so you can explore what is being reported from your own town. Participants may also submit photos of the birds they see for an online gallery. Birdcount.org also features an instructional video and a page just for kids, with games and activities to help youngsters get into the task.

I’m no birder, but it sounds so easy I may bookmark the Great Backyard Birdcount webpage as I sip coffee and read the paper on the back patio this weekend; it’s in perfect view of the backyard birdbath and feeder.

Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is at 2757 E. Guadalupe Road. Admission to Saturday’s event is free. For information, email DesertRiversAudubon@gmail.com, or visit www.DesertRiversAudubon.org.

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