Local bird watchers descended upon West Hill Dam armed with pen, paper and a few binoculars to participate in West Hill Dam’s annual Backyard Bird Count. The event took place Feb. 17 and was co-hosted by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. The organization has been hosting the count at District project for 20 years.
“The annual Backyard Bird Count is a nationwide program held every February,” said Park Ranger and event organizer Viola Bramel. “Worldwide hikers, visitors and even seniors at home by their own feeders share their observations.”
Bramel said that the Cornell Lab plots the observations on global maps to show migration, population trends and environmental factors that impact birds. Cornell Lab says that scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations.
This year, 20 participants kept a sharp eye out for West Hill’s feathered residents during a 1.5-mile hike. Volunteers included Scouts, Advanced Rangers and adult bird enthusiasts. The group hiked to observe four habitats at West Hill – riparian-river, wetlands, grassland and open field with a forested edge. “We followed protocol from Cornell, observing each habitat for 15 minutes,” said Bramel.
Patience paid off for the bird lovers – the group saw a flock of hooded Mergansers, a black-eyed Junco, an Eastern Bluebird, three ducks, a Blue Jay, a flock of Chickadees, three Canadian Geese and two Bald Eagles.
After a successful bird count, the Scouts and Advanced Junior Rangers put their campfire skills to good use and built a fire. Volunteers and Bramel provided hot chocolate and marshmallows for the adventurers to enjoy by the fire. “We reviewed our observations while enjoying the campfire,” said Bramel. “It was so nice to have so many people just spending a great day outside in the park and away from electronics.”
Long-time volunteer Linda Letha assisted Bramel in running the event.
Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.
According to their website, more than 160,000 people of all ages worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. In 2018, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted more than 6,400 species of birds on more than 180,000 checklists. Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
The Backyard Bird Count is only one of many events West Hill Dam hosts. For more information on upcoming events, visit their website at https://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/West-Hill-Dam/