Frank Gardner says his father used to push him in a stroller around a bird sanctuary in his hometown of Jamestown, NY (“it’s basically Ohio”). At age four, he was already an amateur ornithologist.
So it’s no surprise that Gardner is Bedford coordinator for the 61st annual Concord Christmas Bird Count, scheduled for this Sunday in parts of 18 area towns, including a segment of Bedford.
Teams of field observers will physically visit the trails and meadows and document, with notes and photographs, not only various bird species but also raw numbers. Their work will be supplemented by feeder watchers, who will record data in their backyards. Residents may contact Gardner at email@example.com for details on how to participate.
The geographic outline for the count includes much of southwest Bedford, bounded by an arc that crosses the Concord River just south of the Route 225 Hart Desiato Bridge and continues onto Hanscom Field, entering there from Hartwell Road near the Edge sports center. The segment features many natural areas — Clark Field, Little Meadow, Dellovo and Webber conservation lands, as well as much of the Concord River flood plain.
The National Audubon Society is the “operating agency” of the exercise, according to the Concord Christmas Bird Count website, https://concordcbc.org/. The sponsor is the regional land trust Sudbury Valley Trustees.
Gardner said the Christmas Bird Count is “the oldest citizen science project in the country,” going back some 120 years. Back in the 18th century, “People would go out on Christmas Day and see how many birds they could kill.” After the National Audubon Society was established in 1905, the message was changed to, “How about we just go out and look at them?”
Now there are more than 100 years of data, “which have been a real treasure trove of information about the bird population. We can draw meaningful conclusions. More and more people do it every year. We also record information about how many people are out.”
The country is divided into hundreds of “count circles,” none of them overlapping, Gardner explained. The so-called Concord Circle is centered around the convergence of the towns of Acton, Concord, Maynard and Sudbury, and the radius extends 15 kilometers. That not only encompasses Bedford’s southwest but also parts of 17 other towns.
The Concord circle is “one of the most popular in the country in terms of participants,” Gardner said. “There’s such a tradition of birding in the area.”
Gardner became involved in the Christmas Bird Count in 1989 and in the Concord circle in 1996, a year after relocating here. “At that point nobody was covering the Bedford segment,” he said, but by 2002 there were more than a half-dozen volunteers and for the past few years between 10 and 16.
As coordinator of the Bedford sector, Gardner takes results from participants and relays them to the overall circle coordinator. Typically, Gardner said, the count in Bedford yields about 30 species and more than 600 birds.
“For birders, it’s a special way to celebrate the holiday season,” Gardner said. “I have a lot of really fond memories over the years. There used to be a big potluck at somebody’s house at the end of the day. People would announce one species at a time. It was always exciting because there was usually some unlikely bird that was found.”
Safety precautions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will not compromise the count, Gardner said. The volunteers who spread out on the local trails and fields will have to arrive in separate vehicles. “But out in the field, walking around, is certainly doable,” he said. Indeed, birding is one of those “Covid-friendly” activities that have grown in popularity during these times.
Gardner said that over 25 years of participation, he has seen changes in the prevalence of birds that may be a byproduct of climate change, especially “certain species that were traditionally more southern that expanded into the Northeast, some which were rare or even not present 25 years ago.”
Bu there may be other reasons he acknowledged, including more backyard feeders and more observers. Examples are the red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, cardinal, and tufted titmouse, he said.
Gardner is an engineer with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, managing grant programs to municipalities and other entities in New England that use the money to assess and revitalize former hazardous waste areas.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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