Mad Birders get ready for 5th year of participation in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Posted on Tuesday 4 January 2011

Bohemian Waxwings in Waitsfield last week.

Bohemian Waxwings in Waitsfield last week.

Bohemian Group

Bohemian Waxwings thrilled Mad Birders and Waitsfield Elementary School students last week.

The Mourning Dove is a common year round resident in the Valley.

The Mourning Dove is a common year round resident in the Valley.

See you on the Christmas Birding Day!

Waitsfield Elementary Students to participate in Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Children do it almost by instinct.  They count.  Usually the things they count are objects they love: toys, candy, gifts, friends, and even family members.  If they are outdoors they will count anything they see… ants, leaves, stones… or even birds.  So it should come as no surprise that kids at the Waitsfield Elementary School will be counting birds as part of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count happening in the Mad River Valley on Friday December 17th.   Many of the kids at Waitsfield Elementary trace their knowledge and enthusiasm about birds to Mrs. Patti Haynes, who has been a Para educator at the school for the past 16 years.  Patti, in turn, expresses gratitude to her childhood babysitter in New Jersey, Mrs. Chewning, the local librarian and an Audubon Society member, who provided the spark for Patti’s lifelong interest in bird watching.

Getting school children interested in birds is pretty easy to do if you are as enthusiastic as Patti, and she had help from other Waitsfield Elementary School teachers and some parents as well.   In 2009, when Patti decided to improve her electronic reporting of daily bird counts (eBird is an online citizen science tool to record and share bird sightings around the globe), it was natural to figure out a way to include the school as a reporting location.  A bird feeder was constructed outside one of the classrooms.  Each week a student in that classroom was given the title of ‘Birdwatcher’ and had to report to Patti (Mrs. Haynes) the number and species of birds seen.

Since 2006, the local birding club, the Mad Birders, has been participating in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) which involves counting birds within a 15-mile diameter circle.  That Waitsfield Elementary School is located within this circle, had a birdfeeder, and had Patti, along with loads of enthusiastic kids; this set the stage for the school’s participation last year in the local effort. This year the students will be counting birds again.

There are two ways to participate in the CBC, field counting and feederwatch counting.   Field counting involves teams of two or more bird watchers going out into the territory on foot or by car and counting the birds they see or hear.  Feederwatch counting is done from a fixed location and involves counting the birds that come to the feeder.

This past week Mother Nature helped generate some advance publicity for this year’s Mad River Valley Christmas Bird Count by sending in a flock of very pretty and exotic winter birds called Bohemian Waxwings.   During the four previous years that the Mad Birders counted birds for the CBC, only one Bohemian Waxwing had ever been spotted.  Emails flew back and forth among Valley birders about this unusual sighting and when the birds were spotted at the General Wait House in Waitsfield on the morning of Friday December 10th, Patti took some students from Mrs. Georgeanne Baker’s class to see them.  Mrs. Baker is one of many teachers inspired by Patti to become a bird watcher.  Afterwards, Mrs. Baker posted this note from the class on the Mad Birders’ electronic mailing list:

“Dear Birders,

Some of us saw the Bohemian Waxwings behind the Wait House with Mrs. Haynes during recess around 11:35 a.m.  We saw about 10 of them.  They were feeding on berries and a couple of them were dive bombing for a berry and then flew up to the top of a tree, and again and again.  They swallowed the berries whole!  They let us get very close to them.  Mrs. Haynes told us to look for their cinnamon under-tail and on the tip of the tail, yellow dots.  We saw this clearly from where we were standing.  Mrs. Haynes had binoculars with her.  When we looked through them, the birds looked gigantic.

See you on the Christmas Birding Day.

Mrs. Baker’s Class”

Dozens of Mad River Valley Birders along with the students of Waitsfield Elementary School (and their teachers) will be counting birds all day on Friday December 17th.  If you see folks with binoculars or kids in the school yard at recess that day that seem to be looking for birds, don’t forget to wish them a Happy Christmas Birding Day!

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