In an annual tradition, dozens of bird enthusiasts will fan out this Sunday, trying to record every bird they see.
It’s the 114th annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The day-long counts are held at more than 2,300 places between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Last year, volunteers counted 63 million birds in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. The Audubon Society calls it the longest running citizen science survey in the world.
“It’s just kind of a snapshot of wintertime birds,” says Mike Stoakes of Lee’s Summit, who compiles the figures for this area.
Stoakes, who also works at the nature history library at Fleming Park, on Sunday will be at Unity Village, the center of a circle with a 15-mile radius, taking in Fleming Park, Swope Park and Longview Lake.
Within that circle, growth has shoved aside some natural habitat over the years.
“It’s becoming more and more developed,” Stoakes said.
Stoakes will oversee more than 30 experienced birders, all volunteers, who will be out in a car or on foot, generally on public land, spotting as many birds as they can.
“It’s an all-day affair,” he said.
Although the findings from any one area are “by no means exhaustive,” he said, over time the Audubon Society can see trends in bird populations.
Just in Missouri, for example, the Audubon Society says there were 27 Christmas bird counts last year. Species that were down included pheasant, northern bobwhite, the American black duck and several species of sparrow, but 53 species were seen in what the groups called “significantly greater-than-usual numbers,” including barred owls, screech owls, American white pelicans, the western meadowlark, various finches and sparrows – and Missouri’s state bird, the eastern bluebird. Dozens of Smith’s longspurs were seen Montrose Lake, the first sighting in a Christmas count in 28 years, and a yellow-throated warbler – at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Missouri – was seen for the first time in Missouri in a Christmas count.
The Missouri Department of Conservation promotes the event as well as birding generally, but it also suggests that the state’s best places to see a wide variety of birds are a good drive from Kansas City. No. 1 in the agency’s top 10 is about two hours to the north – Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, with abundant waterfowl and, during the winter, dozens of bald eagles.
No. 2 also is roughly two hours away – Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the nearby Fountain Grove Conservation Area north of Carrollton. Wetlands in the Grand River valley attract waterfowl and shorebirds during migration, and white pelicans are common in the warmer months. At No. 7 are two places north of El Dorado Springs, the Taberville Prairie and Schell-Osage conservation areas. Schell-Osage has wetland species, and Taberville Prairie has birds such as greater prairie chickens and upland sandpipers.
Those three are each a pretty good day trip from Kansas City, and the rest of the Department of Conservation’s top 10 are farther out:
• No. 3, the Ted Shanks Conservation Area, running for seven miles on the Mississippi River south of Hannibal.
• No. 4, the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in the Missouri River floodplain near Columbia. Lots of herons, egrets and shorebirds in September.
• No. 5, the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area, a wetland run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam on the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis.
• No. 6, the August A. Busch Memorial and Weldon Spring conservation areas in the St. Louis area.
• No. 8, Hercules Glades Wilderness in the Mark Twain National Forest east of Branson. It’s a roadless wilderness with foot paths.
• No. 9, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which consists of the Jacks Fork and Current rivers in south-central Missouri.
• No. 10, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and Duck Creek Conservation Area, in the Bootheel, with forests, swamps and marshes. The Department of Conservation says it has the greatest diversity of birds of any public lands in Missouri – more than 100 species during the peak of spring migration.
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