Sunday’s Annual Bird Count Includes Sliver of Bedford

This hawk in Bedford is one of many species that may be spotted and counted on Sunday. Staff photo/Wayne Braverman

Bedford volunteers will join their counterparts from all over the country on Sunday for the annual Christmas Bird Count (https://concordcbc.org/).

“It’s the longest-running citizen-science project in the country,” said Frank Gardner, who coordinates local volunteers.

He expects at least a dozen participants to identify how many birds they see, by species. Some of the volunteers have been involved for as many as 20 years, Gardner said, and the weather forecast indicates this will be their most comfortable count.

Geographically, the project involves only part of the town’s southwest quadrant, including the Little Meadow and Clark conservation areas off Davis Road, the western end of the Reformatory Branch Trail and contiguous conservation areas, the Edge sports center, and the banks of the Concord River.

The bird count nationally is broken down into count circles with a radius of seven-and-a-half miles, and that sliver of Bedford is at the edge of a circle whose hub is near the Concord-Sudbury line. So, Bedford is one of several towns that are part of what is called the Concord count.

“Replicability is key to collecting data, and it’s important to follow the same geography, the same methodology, each year,” Gardner said. Volunteers mostly cover conservation areas and trails, though backyard feeders are also part of the process. 

(Gardner said that if he stands on the Desiato Hart Bridge on Route 225, he is outside the count circle – but peering up the Concord River through a “spotting scope,” he can see birds to the west that are within the radius.)

The Christmas Bird Count is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society, in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, the North American Breeding Bird Survey, and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (https://www.audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count).

The event is more than 100 years old. Gardner explained that at one time there was a Christmas Day tradition: “People would go out and see how many birds they could kill. The other things people would do is kill herons and egrets and use the feathers for women’s hats.”

Late in the 19th century, the Audubon movement, “championed by women, felt that it didn’t make sense to go out killing birds. Let’s go out and count them and observe them. So, we have over 100 years of data, a treasure trove of data on bird populations.”

Now the Christmas Bird Count extends to Canada and parts of South America, Gardner said. And the Concord count, “one of the older ones, often leads the country in number of observers. Hundreds of people join in the effort.”

Ideally, Gardner related, “you want to cover all the area, with a full census of every species you can find.” It helps to know birds’ tendencies, he said, to avoid double or even triple counting. “There’s an art and a science to it. You have to coordinate and communicate.”

The volunteers are scheduled to assemble at Starbucks Wednesday for “pregame,” Gardner said. After the count, coordinators from all participating towns within the Concord circle will report their results at a Zoom meeting – National Audubon is discouraging returning to in-person gatherings.

Over the years, Gardner said, “We have seen declines in some species, some changes in range.” There are now birds common in the area who years ago were rarely seen.

“For me, it’s a family tradition around the holidays,” Gardner said. “It makes it a lot of fun.” Indeed, he begins before sunrise with “predawn owling,” remembering to notify police in case they get any calls about someone slinking around.

To take part in the count or for answers to questions, contact Gardner at frg444@gmail.com.


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