From TCPalm.com: One of the finest traditions in wildlife conservation is taking place. Hundreds of people will join one of 55 different Christmas Bird Count circles all over Florida to collect information about the numbers, types and locations of birdlife.
The 110-year-old Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running scientific survey in the nation and contributes essential data that help scientists determine trends in everything from the state of important habitat to the impacts of climate change. The data collected around the state allows government agencies and organizations, such as Audubon, craft conservation strategies to protect habitats and our air and water.
For citizen science volunteers and conservation professionals who join the Christmas Bird Count, Florida is a special place. Our Sunshine State is home to a remarkable diversity of birds and habitats and it is a flyway for migrating species. Our avian friends bring thousands of visitors to Florida each year. Those birdwatchers in turn spend millions of dollars here. More importantly, they enjoy this special place we call Florida.
Bird-watching is considered the leading outdoor recreational activity, according to surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Right now, throughout Florida, people are watching birds at feeders, visiting parks and beaches, and even going deep into swamps and forests to spot rare species.
My own experience last year took me to the shore of a lake where I saw a great blue heron perched in the distance, high in a leafless tree. The sun was low over the water and the heron was frozen as a dark shadow in the golden light. The citizen scientist in me recorded the observation to put into the electronic records on Audubon’s Web site. The conservationist in me marveled, as the first explorers must have, to see such a majestic creature making such good use of the floodplain forest.
Florida, I thought then and believe now, is a spectacularly beautiful place. Do we Christmas Bird Counters spend days in the field just to serve science? No. Our science purpose gives us an excuse to go out and enjoy what our friends and relatives in other places can only dream of. We may disguise our pleasure by recording our observations, but we are in every minute of the day taking in the beauty of nature’s bounty. And that beauty in winter is experienced better in Florida than any other place.
The birds in the trees are the creator’s seasonal ornaments, jumping from branch to ground and challenging us to know them and their reason for being here. For in their numbers and locations are the discoverable secrets of what is going on in the world around us.
Humans are not only given the gift of observation. We are compelled to use that gift. To look, ponder, compare and share. That curiosity is the source of science. If we are to understand the tremendous changes being wrought on the Earth, one good place to start is by watching birds. For like the legendary canaries that stand watch in coal mines, they will let us know what is right and wrong with the world around us.
To join a count circle near you, visit audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html. Or just go outdoors and use your own powers of observation. What you will see is the best reason for living or visiting Florida.