Bird Count

Nate Crane watches birds along the Boardman River.

BEULAH — If you take a look at their website, most of the Benzie Audubon Society’s birding events for the 2020 season were canceled.

All but one: The 121st annual Christmas Bird Count.

More than 50,000 bird watchers from Paraguay to Alaska, from Newfoundland to Guam, will participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count this December. There are thousands of events scattered all across North and South America — including several in the Grand Traverse region.

Some compilers have decided to cancel its 2020 bird count, but others, for the most part, have not had to adjust to the pandemic.

In late September, the NAS issued a memo to its members that if they conduct a CBC this winter, it should follow guidelines to make sure it can be done safely. Those included a cancellation of all in-person compilation gatherings, masking and physical distancing in the field, and a recommendation against carpooling.

In Grand Traverse County, Audubon Society President Leonard Graf said the only thing that’s different this year is that the group of 20 members won’t meet for dinner after going birding.

“We have 11 areas, only one or two require carpooling,” Graf said. “It gives them a chance to go out and do something with their day, go birding, rather than staying home.”

Graf said he’s looking forward to seeing finches — red polls, grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks — that have flown south for the winter. They haven’t been in the area in years prior.

Benzie Audubon Society member Carl Freeman said the fact that the bird count has been going on for more than a century made it so important to find a way to make it work for his chapter.

He said the original counts just before the turn of the century were done in protest to the winter bird hunting season, and since, it has served as the longest running citizen science project in the world.

“You’re doing it in the same place every year, you can’t chance it,” Freeman said. “It’s very good science for telling trends. It can tell you things that are generally going up in an area, or are going down over a period of time.”

The only change his count has had to make is meeting up at sites in separate cars, as opposed to traveling together.

“Normally there is a get-together, a potluck or something where people get together and talk about what they saw during the day, tell people when they went in the ditch, a great bird they saw, and do a total,” Freeman said. “That won’t be happening this year.”

Some counts are more open to new members than others, Freeman said. With his in particular, if a member gives him a call and says they’re interested, he’d find a way for them to participate.

Nate Crane, compiling the Lake Leelanau CBC, said every year he has had to turn people down. He said some counters were assigned territories before he was born. “I’m not going to switch it up on anybody,” the owner of Rare Bird said.

He has counted with some members for years, but he’s counting this year by himself because those members are technically not in the same household as him. Other groups have chosen to count the same area but in separate places.

“Being an activity that’s outside as it is, it’s certainly going to go on,” Crane said.

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR

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