I wrote last month’s column on the eve of the annual Barrington Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Thirty-one intrepid counters participated in the event on December 16, fifteen of them covering the northwest quadrant. That section encompasses the village and surrounding area, much of which lies in forest preserves. So it should not be surprising that the northwest counters tallied many of the high totals for the count area of 177 square miles.
As Chuck Westcott, originator of the Barrington CBC and one of its co-compilers, observed, “The wonderful thing about the count is that no two years are alike.” Weather plays an outsized role. Is the ground covered with snow, making coverage by foot a challenge? Is snow or rain falling? Are ponds and lakes frozen? Is it cloudy? Sunny? Windy? All these elements figure into the numbers of birds present in the area, as well as into counters’ inclination to cover more or less territory.
* Pictured Above: One of the count teams for our area. Laura Westcott, Ellie Shunas, Chuck Westcott, Alison Vanderpoel, Luke Dahlberg and (not pictured:) Barb Laughlin Karon, Laura Simpson, and Duane Heaton. (Citizens for Conservation Photos by Barb Laughlin-Karon)
From my perspective, I was relieved that December 16 was mild compared to many count days I’ve experienced. The high temperature was below freezing – 31º – but never dipped below 24º. With proper clothing, it was not difficult to keep reasonably warm, even when outside for hours. I began my route around 7:30 in the morning, demurring on the opportunity to listen for owls in the darkness, and finished in early afternoon. Others continued until last light. All those details – weather conditions, time spent in the field, miles covered – become part of the official report submitted to the National Audubon CBC database.
I spent most of my time in sections of Cook County’s Spring Creek Forest Preserve, with a few minutes spent documenting the birds at my mother-in-law’s bird feeders. My total came to 19 species, meager compared to the 105 species tallied in a coastal Georgia CBC in which I participated two and a half weeks later, but about average for my part in previous Barrington counts.
The best birds for me were a Hermit Thrush, a Belted Kingfisher, and a dozen Sandhill Cranes. In fact, in last month’s column I mused about the possibility of finding the latter two, so they were especially welcome sightings. As far as I can recollect, I’ve never documented a Hermit Thrush on a CBC in Barrington. The one I found was a reward for crawling through a tangle of buckthorn along a drainage ditch. It sat motionless on a fallen tree for several minutes.
Of course the overall total for the northwest quadrant was higher than my individual one: 39 species. For the entire count circle the species total was 65, higher than both the last 10-year average (63.6) and the 56-year average (58.5), with more than 11,500 individual birds documented. It’s probable that climate change has enabled more species like the thrush, kingfisher, and crane to prolong their sojourns in our area. The northwest quadrant, which includes several thousand acres of natural habitat, yielded the highest counts for Canada Goose, Sandhill Crane, woodpeckers (Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy), Northern Shrike, Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, among others.
The biggest surprises were the appearance of a Eurasian Collared Dove; highest count ever for Red-bellied Woodpecker; high counts for Merlin and White-breasted Nuthatch; and lowest count ever for American Tree Sparrow. In my five-plus hours in the field, I encountered only one tree sparrow. Overall, 98 were tallied but that number falls far short of the 56-year average of 600+. Those numbers represent the sort of data that help determine trends in bird populations, not only in Barrington but around the country and even the globe.
According to Wikipedia, the Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science project in the world. It is administered by the National Audubon Society (Audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count). Anyone, whether an experienced or novice birder, can participate. If you’d like to spend a few hours in the field next December as part of a worldwide effort to document bird populations on behalf of conservation, you can mark the date for the Barrington count on your 2020 calendar now: Monday, December 14. To register, or to simply express interest, reply in the comments box below.
In the meantime, our spring migrants and summer residents will be returning soon!
About Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in the Barrington 220 school district and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington. Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, Wendy taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands. She is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
Wendy and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
Wendy Paulson’s Birds of Barrington | Field Notes from Barrington’s 2019 Christmas Bird Count