Just about every day, Rick Kedenburg of Peconic looks out his windows and sees birds, lots of birds.
“There are about a dozen right now at my feeders,” he says. “I’ve got chickadees, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, nuthatches, various woodpeckers and a variety of other species.”
Whenever he gets a little free time, Kedenburg heads to a nature preserve or beach to look for something more unusual — like the snowy owl he discovered at Orient Beach State Park a couple of weeks ago.
“We have amazing birding here on Long Island,” he says. “It’s so diverse that it never grows old.”
No doubt, then, Kedenburg, a member of the North Fork Audubon Society, will have plenty of bird data to log for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) scheduled for Friday, Feb. 17, to Monday, Feb. 20. A joint program organized by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the four-day event asks bird-watchers to count, record and enter the number and types of birds they observe. It’s a time when you’ll find avian fans ranging from experts to first-timers taking flight to their favorite viewing stations.
Living on the East End, Kedenburg certainly has a great seat for birding, but the beauty of the Great Backyard Bird Count is you can tally your birds anywhere — at a backyard feeder, in a park, along the shore, in the woods or even on your roof — and everyone is welcome to partake.
“This project is celebrating 20 years,” says MaryLaura Lamont, a park ranger at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach, where she will lead a bird walk on Saturday, Feb. 18, to coincide with the event. “It’s really grown in popularity, and counting with a group of birders is a lot of fun.”
Lamont, birding from age 8, has been with the Fire Island National Seashore since 1979 and has been stationed at the William Floyd Estate for 20 years. Bird lovers, she says, really enjoy getting involved.
“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” says Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham.
OBSERVE, RECORD AND ENTER
You don’t need experience to be part of the team. Heading out with a group, however, means you’ll benefit from the skills of other birders — and more eyes increase the likelihood of spotting something unusual, like an owl, a wood duck or a bald eagle.
“You can watch from your window, go with a group, head out with friends; there really aren’t any restrictions,” explains Byron Young, president of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society. “Just spend at least 15 minutes watching and recording, then enter your information online at the Great Backyard Bird Count home page [gbbc.birdcount.org]. It’s that simple.”
For this count, birders can make as many entries as they wish over the four days — but each viewing session should be recorded separately. For large flocks like Canada geese or starlings, it’s OK to estimate (100, 500 or 1,000).
Last year’s count tallied 162,052 birding list submissions covering 5,689 species and a whopping total of 18,637,974 individual birds!
TOP FLIGHT ADVICE
Birding experts advise newbies to take their time during the count. A lot of birds will fly away before you get a good look when approached too quickly. Others, often well camouflaged, simply hunker down in a bush or the ground in the hope you’ll hurry past without noticing. Don’t disturb or try to flush the birds — especially owls, which prefer to fly at night. Just watch and record before backing away or moving on.
“It’s amazing what you’ll find at a local park,” says Dennis Fleury, museum director at Tackapausha Preserve in Seaford. “We have a freshwater pond, saltwater creek, woods and fields on 85 acres buried right in the middle of suburbia and each different environment is favored by different bird species.”
Lamont agrees environmental diversity is a key to varied viewing. She’s recently observed northern harriers (marsh hawks) around wetlands, bald eagles on the Carmans River, great horned owls in the woods and eastern towhees at a feeder — all at the William Floyd Estate.
“I’ve also seen a few ravens this winter,” she says. “That’s unusual because these are birds of the true wild. They are actually nesting here on Long Island and that hasn’t happened in generations.”
Maybe they’ll show up for the count.