The 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is underway across the nation, and yesterday, December 20 I did my part by joining members of the Greater Ozar4ks Audubon Society (GOAS) and counting birds in the Springfield area. This "bird hunt" as a friend of a friend calls it, is fun and exhausting. Our group tramped through thickets, lakeshores, railroad tracks, and along many roads to count birds. My birding skills are negigible at best, but like any other skill, one must practice to improve.
Along the way we saw three Bald Eagles, a sight I never dreamt I would see just 10 years ago. The population rebounded due to many conservation efforts. We also saw a Snow Goose, some hawks, and several Black Vultures. Black Vultures are more southern in their range. When I first moved to Springfield I went on several birding trips, one of which was to see the Black Vultures. At the beginning of the 2000s they only rarely ventured further north than Branson. Now they are seen more commonly in the Springfield area. That information is just one of the many ways the annual bird counts is important. The bird counts help indicate changes in species and habits that would be otherwise difficult to verify.
Also along the way I took time to enjoy simply being outdoors, regardless of the weather. What a fun surprise to see this wasp nest on a tree branch at eye level! I do not often get to the small ponds and lakes in the region, so I enjoyed seeing the Pied-Billed Grebes and White Pelicans on the water. We even saw some worms still active in this cold weather!
During this next year my goal is to improve my birding abilities. I hope to spend time every week going through my neighborhood in search of thrushes, warblers, sparrows, and the occasional Bald Eagle. Last year at this time I saw one soaring over my neighborhood! You never know what you will see unless you get out there - and try!