By Mina Williams Herald writer
South County residents have the chance to be citizen scientists Feb. 17-20 in their own back yards. Those are the four days set aside for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
The purpose for the national effort is to create a one-time snapshot of what birds are where.
The best part of the event is that anyone can participate, said Alan Mearns, an Edmonds resident and a volunteer with the Edmonds Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program.
“If you can identify a robin, chickadee or a nuthatch you are well on your way,” Mearns said. “Some basic interest in birds is the only requirement. It’s a perfect activity for families and Scout groups. Kids really get excited spotting birds and counting them.”
For those who can’t, or those who want to hone their skills, Mearns is offering a training class Feb. 11 in Edmonds. In addition to allaying fears of misidentification, the session will show people how to enter the data into the Great Backyard Bird Count website. The website, www.birdsource.org, also has data from previous years allowing viewers to compare and contrast years and regions. Mearns will also offer advice on tracking birds with binoculars.
To participate in the count, backyard birders simply go outside, in their yard or a nearby park at least one time over the four-day period for a minimum of 15 minutes. The number and types of birds are tracked and reported online.
As the count progresses anyone can explore online what is being reported in the United States and Canada.
Mearns suggested that a little planning – setting up a bird feeder a couple of weeks early, for example – might increase the odds of spotting birds.
“Besides providing data it really engages people with their own environment,” he said. “You look at birds, put the data in and feel ownership and responsibility in your own environment.”
The count has been happening in South County for more than a decade, Mearns said. “It started slow,” he said. “Every year we have more people sending in data.”
Scientists look to the count for clues about climate change.
Certain species have changed their migratory patterns, Mearns said. Tracking the data provides support for theories and modeling. “They depend on people on the ground telling them things,” he said.
He pointed out that there is an increasing variability in weather. Over the past four years it has gotten cooler in the Puget Sound area and in the entire North Pacific, including Alaska, but not in the Arctic. There may be a correlation between the weather and the recent sightings of a ribbon seal and a snowy owl, he said.
WHAT: The Great Backyard Bird Count
WHEN: Feb. 17-20; training/information session: Feb. 11 from 9-11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Willow Creek Hatchery, Highway 104 and Pine Street, Edmonds
INFO: www.birdsource.org; Alan Mearns: Alan.Mearns@noaa.gov or 425-774-9069