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Queens Chronicle

114th annual Christmas count is for the birds

Audubon Society event is Saturday at spots in Queens; you can join in

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:24 am, Thu Dec 19, 2013.

Serious birders and backyard enthusiasts will come together Saturday in Queens to participate in the National Audubon Society’s 114th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Anyone can take part, but participants must first register with the count compiler. In Queens, that’s Corey Finger of Forest Hills. Everyone is assigned to one of eight circles in Queens to do a stakeout on Saturday for the count. Locations include Forest Park and environs, Alley Pond Park, the Flushing area, Douglaston and Jamaica Bay.

So far, 26 residents have signed up to participate in Queens, which is a little more than usual, according to Finger. There is an experienced section leader who will accompany each group, but Finger warns that it can be a grueling day if the weather is cold.

“People are out all day, so it’s a long day,” he said. “But we can make accommodations for those with less time available who want to do it from their backyards.”

Finger has been participating in the bird count for five years, but this is the first year he’s a compiler. During the day, he will head out to areas not covered by others, including Flushing Meadows Park (plenty of red-tail hawks) and the Queens Zoo, where some “interesting birds” hang out near the enclosures sometimes, Finger noted.

Over the years he’s observed some unusual birds including one bald eagle over JFK Airport and a white pelican near Little Neck Bay, both last year. This year, he’s hoping someone will spot some snowy owls, which migrate from the Arctic to Queens in the winter and can be found in the Rockaways and near JFK.

The one that got away last year was Le Conte’s sparrow, an elusive species that was seen a day before the count but disappeared after that.

The most common birds spotted last year were the greater scaup, a type of duck, at 7,860, and not surprisingly, 969 pigeons and 435 house sparrows. Also found were 143 blue jays, 138 cardinals and 125 robins, plus 3 species of owls and five kinds of woodpeckers, among others.

The bird count is more than a social gathering for birders, according to David Arnold, president of the National Audubon Society. “We’ve led the way, from the Endangered Species Act listing and eventual recovery of the bald eagle to winning protections for vulnerable waterfowl, including the American black duck,” Arnold wrote in the group’s fall magazine. “And today, as birds face unprecedented threats from climate change and energy development, the Christmas Bird Count is more relevant than ever, including the EPA’s use of our data as one of its key climate change indicators.”

By providing data, counters aid in assessing measures used to help prevent species’ numbers from declining, ornithologists say.

Some of the lessons learned from the bird count over the years include: the bald eagle is back, peregrine falcons are no longer in danger, more hummingbirds are staying in the United States for the winter and Eastern house finches have been migrating west for 60 years.

Data have also revealed that some species are in decline. They include the little blue heron, ruffed grouse, snow bunting, whip-poor-will, black-throated sparrow, boreal chickadee and common grackle.

Finger, a union organizer for healthcare workers in New Jersey, became interested in birds when he first spied a green heron in 2005. Since then he has spotted 1,000 bird species around the world.

To participate in the Queens bird count, contact Finger at 10000birdsblogger@gmail.com quickly. He will try to set up volunteers with a circle or make other arrangements for different locations so there is no overlapping.

For more information on the national endeavor, go to audubon.org.

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