By LORI PINELLI - For the Star Beacon
Folks will be shivering in the cold with binoculars and field guide books this weekend to be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC takes place Feb. 15 to 18 for bird watchers of all ages throughout the world. Participants count the number of individual bird species they see and submit their findings online to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc. There is no cost to participate or submit tallies. Birders can spend as little as 15 minutes one day counting birds, or as long as they want each day of the 16th annual four-day event. Conservation groups, including The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society sponsor the project.
Marc Hanneman, bird enthusiast and investment executive at Andover Bank in Jefferson participated in the Christmas Bird Count which ended in early January.
“It's a great reason to set a whole day aside and go see what you can find. And that's the real appeal, you do not know what you're going to find. There's always a chance, because birds fly, to see something very rare, and that's what keeps you going out in below zero wind chills. Last year there was an irruption of snowy owls. This is the year of the finch and other northern songbirds. We continue to see reports of crossbills, evening grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatches, and lately there have even been some reports of Bohemian waxwings. Most winters these species are very few or non-existent in Ohio,” said Hanneman.
“It’s important to know what birds are coming and going from the area,” said Lynn Peskoran, fiscal officer of the Henderson Memorial Public Library and Williamsfield Township. “The counts will tell what’s happening to the birds and the risks that they might face.”
Peskoran said that she feeds birds in her yard and is interested in the many wild birds in her area, including the eagles nesting in the Pymatuning Valley State Park.
Mark Meyer, owner of The Bird Feeder in Jefferson, said there’s a lot of information scientists learn from bird counts.
“House finches were originally a western bird. They were kept as caged pets until they were reclassified as Sunbirds. Then it became illegal to have them, so people let them loose. They found from the count that the finches keep trying to migrate back to the west,” said Meyer.
Meyer said birding is a popular hobby, and people involved in it are some of the nicest he has ever met. Meyer sells feeders and feed made to attract specific varieties of birds, as well as binoculars, field guides and feed for other animals at his store on State Route 46 North. The bird feeders outside his shop coax woodpeckers and other feathered friends to come out where customers can enjoy viewing them.
One customer, Gene Swanson of Thompson, said that he and his wife saw a red-headed woodpecker that was the size of a turkey during the backyard bird count several years ago.
“My wife really enjoyed them,” said Swanson.
Hanneman said he would encourage folks to participate in the GBBC because it's a great way to begin recording what visits your backyard.
“Myself, I seem to need a reason to go birding, or even watch the feeders in the backyard. It is not usually a high priority among the things required to maintain a household, career, etc., but it is among the best forms of relaxation and a perfect distraction from all of the other occupiers of our time. Other than some good optics and gas money, or in this case birdseed money, it's free and you can bird almost anywhere, anytime. This is a great year to set a new personal record (observing) bird species in your back yard,” said Hanneman.