Thursday, December 17, 2009

New HMANA board meets in New Hampshire

The Hawk Migration Association of North America held its annual face-to-face board meeting at Squam Lakes in New Hampshire this past weekend. For new board members, it was a time to meet the people they will be working with for the next several years. For the outgoing board members, it was a last time to see folks with whom they’ve already shared several years of work.

Among those going off the board were Iain MacLeod, who’s been the board chair for the past 3 years. Iain isn’t going too far, though, as he will stay on several HMANA committees and continue to spearhead the layout and design of Hawk Migration Studies. Iain, who is executive director of Squam Lakes Nature Center, also hosted the board meeting.

Replacing Iain as chair will be Gil Randell, from Mayville, New York. Gil was HMANA’s vice chair last year and has served as chair of the Conservation and Education Committee for several years. He is a regular at Ripley Hawkwatch.

Three new board members joined the group, though only two are really new to the board. Susan Fogleman of Plymouth, New Hampshire, is returning to the board after a year’s absence. She serves on the Marketing and Communications and the Conservation and Education committees and has been site coordinator at Little Roundtop in New Hampshire for longer than she’d probably want me to say. She’s also one of the writers of this blog.

The other two new board members are Allen Hale, head of Buteo Books based in Shipman, Virginia, and Daena Ford, from Braddock Bay New York’s hawkwatch. Retiring from the board due to term limitations are Steve Hoffman of Montana Audubon, Iain MacLeod and Paul Roberts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Counting for Christmas

Nothing beats counting Pine Grosbeaks on a cold December day!
Yup, it’s that time of year again - the weather is getting chillier and I’m hearing Christmas tunes at the grocery store. Yes, the holidays are approaching, but there is also one more thing that’s bound to bring you lots of cheer….it’s Christmas Bird Count season!

This year marks the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), an effort begun by the National Audubon Society. From December 14 through January 5th, thousands of volunteers across North America will join together to take part in an adventure that has become a tradition for several generations.
If you’re not familiar with CBCs, here’s how they work. Each count takes place during a 24-hour period within a specified 15-mile diameter count circle. Participants - individuals or teams – divide up the sections, and the group tallies up the results at day’s end. Every individual bird of every species is counted and recorded on a checklist, so every bird counts! The numerous house sparrows and European starlings are counted just as vigilantly as the coveted goshawks and shrikes.
The data from this longest-running wildlife census is then compiled and used by National Audubon together with other conservation organizations to assess the health of bird populations and to guide conservation decisions.

CBCs are all inclusive, and anyone can participate – all ages and all birding levels are welcome. Routes often follow roadways, so those who prefer not to hike much can still contribute. Feeder-watching is another useful and fun way of participating, and it allows participants to count birds outside from indoors.

In the New England counts where I participate, I like to choose routes where I can cover ground by snowshoe, although there are many times when the wind is blowing hard and the temperature drops below freezing when I’m wishing I had the warmth of a car!
Each year, I extend the invitation to friends; even non-birders have fun. It’s an opportunity to share in great winter birding and get involved in a larger effort.

Some years, while in between field jobs, I’d make it my goal to participate in as many counts as I could. I think my record was six counts spanning from Outer Cape Cod up to the far northern reaches of New Hampshire… an exciting journey full of jaegers, dovekies, gray jays and crossbills.

What I most enjoy about CBCs is the history and community traditions behind them. Each count is unique, but most end the day with a celebratory gathering to discuss the findings in a warm place, usually involving hot food and cocoa – at least up here in the Northeast. Some of my birding friends have been conducting these surveys continuously for over 50 years. It’s not only the birds that bring them back, year after year. And, imagine the changes they’ve seen in that span of time!

As raptor enthusiasts and hawkwatchers, we need to support conservation organizations and all efforts to monitor bird populations. After all, it is through CBCs, Breeding Bird Surveys and hawkwatching efforts that we are learning valuable information about raptor populations and how to best manage for species, both common and rare.

Please consider joining in the fun this winter by helping out with your local CBC. Maybe it’ll become part of your annual holiday season tradition, too! To find your nearest CBC, visit National Audubon’s website: and click on “Get Involved”. The “Count Date Search” will help you find a count near you.