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Birders make it count

Birders make it count

Source: Belvoir Eagle, Friday, January 18, 2008

Belvoir Eagle, Friday, January 18, 2008

Birders make it count

On a cool Sunday in December, in the quiet hours before dawn, trained observers stealthily fanned out across Fort Belvoir. They scanned the night skies for silhouettes, searched the branches in the trees, seeking movement in the rustling of the bushes and listening for any sound of the species they sought.

They were rewarded for their early morning efforts as the call of a talkative barred owl cut through the morning air and bounced off the slopes answering the vocalization of a naturalist. The same owl was later sighted out on a limb. So started the annual day-long National Audubon Christmas Bird Count on the post and its surrounding natural areas. 
The count began in the 1900s as an alternative to bird hunting, and has evolved into a nationwide effort to determine the health of wintering birds, spot trends and provide data for the scientific community. A 15-mile radius of natural areas and bird habitat using Fort Belvoir as its center was monitored from dawn until dusk, Dec. 30, by trained naturalists, amateur ornithologists and bird enthusiasts.

Michelle Hayward, environmental specialist at Fort Belvoir, was one of the counters who came to the post for her third year of searching for birds. “It is fun to see fellow birders and contribute to statistical data on migrating and local birds. Hearing a screech owl is well worth getting up at 4 a.m. The sheer number of birds you see during the day is amazing,” she said.
Greg Fleming, wildlife biologist, SpecPro, contracted by the Directorate of Public Works, organized the Fort Belvoir count, dividing volunteers around the installation by sectors, pairing up seasoned spotters with those less experienced. “Over half of the volunteers have participated almost every year recently and are the core of what makes this count such a huge success,” Fleming said.

The forested edges of Accotink Bay proved to be a fertile area of avian activity due to the marsh and field habitat that support the birds with food and water. Some observers noted sightings of birds that normally migrate still here due to warmer temperatures, including purple finches, red-breasted nuthatches and the pine siskin. A blue-winged teal, rusty blackbird and common yellowthroat were also noted in the Jackson Abbott Refuge.

 Although the final count has yet to be determined, a healthy diversity was reported and some uncommon species were sighted. “The count will give a fairly good idea of what birds are here during these winter months. This area is a hotspot because it is healthy bird habitat.” Fleming said.

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