COUNTING BIRDS PROVIDES DATA, FUNDS FOR RELAY

April 11, 2002 11:00 pm
Birder Buzz Stewart scans the sky for spring migrants ().
Birder Buzz Stewart scans the sky for spring migrants ().

By BETTY BEZZERIDES

On May 11 local birders will count every bird they see or hear in Curry County.

The count has a dual purpose. Results will provide data for the North American Migration Count and also raise money for Brookings Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society event that funds research and local support services.

Last year birders recorded 143 different species in Curry County during the spring migration count, including the unexpected White-faced Ibis and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Don Munson, who with his wife Karen, organized a birdathon fundraiser two years ago, urged donors to pledge an amount per species or make a flat donation. A friend of mine died from cancer a few years ago, said Munson. Combining the migration count with Relay for Life seemed like a good way to help in two areas.

Munson, an avid birder, coordinates the count for the southern half of the county. His counterpart at the north end is Jim Rogers of Port Orford.

The North American Migration Count takes place on the same day over the whole country, said Rogers. Its called a migration count but you really count every bird you can find. Its a snapshot on that particular day.

Founded in Maryland in 1991, the biannual migration count documents species numbers, distribution and migratory patterns. Data summaries provide information for scientists and land use planners.

Bird counts give us a basis for noticing changes, explained Rogers. A good example is the starlings. We used to count several dozen. Now its several thousand.

Starlings are very adept at using human sources of food, Rogers continued. We see them most in cities and around barns where there are grains and seeds for them to eat. Theyre aggressive. They drive out other birds and take over their niche.

Munson also pointed out it was previous Christmas bird counts that revealed a sharp decline in the numbers of bald eagles and peregrine falcons. Scientists discovered the pesticide DDT was present in the birds food sources, weakening their eggs. Use of DDT is no longer legal in the United States.

Rogers and Munson are looking for birders with some experience to help them on May 11. We need people who have the experience and interest to cover a certain area and at least two hours. Theres a lot of ground to cover, Munson said.

We also need backyard watchers people who can keep track of the birds who visit their feeders for a designated time.

And of course we need donors, he added.

Brookings birder Buzz Stewart has participated in several migration counts. Don gives us a specific area to cover, he said. I start early. The last couple of years Ive gone to the port and the north jetty, then onto Chetco Point, Mill Beach and the mill pond, and then Harris Beach.

Stewart says hell take along his spotting scope, standard equipment for serious birders. Puffins are on Bird Island about that time of year but theyre hard to see. Binoculars just wont tell you. You might think youre counting puffins at that distance and theyll be cormorants.

Rogers has a plan for the northern end of the county. I usually go to a place where Ill see marbled murrelets fly in from the ocean at dawn. I get there early and call for owls and watch for murrelets and hear other birds singing. Then Ill go to the wetland areas.

Rogers acknowledged weather can be a factor. If its raining hard youre not seeing as much probably just as many species but the numbers will be down.

Fog can also be a problem because a big part of the migration is heading by on the ocean.

Munson said weather challenges, time constraints and birder dynamics combine for a challenging day. Its fun, he said. Its birding with a purpose.

Call Munson at (541) 469-1043 or Rogers at (541) 332-2555 for information on participating in the migration count or donating to Relay for Life.