EVERETT — Scott Atkinson wants you to bid farewell to 2022 the birder way.
The Pilchuck Audubon Society member has organized the 123rd Everett-Marysville Christmas Bird Count for New Years Eve. He’s recruiting backyard birders to help document flying fauna on private properties throughout the day on Dec. 31.
“It’s just a blast,” Atkinson said. “You haven’t really lived until you’ve done the Christmas Bird Count.”
The count is “basically a census of all the wild birds” in a circle measuring 15 miles in diameter. It covers Marysville, northern Everett, Tulalip Reservation, Smokey Point, Hat Island, the southern tip of Camano Island and portions of Arlington and Lake Stevens.
Volunteers spread out within the boundaries by foot, by boat, by kayak and by car to tally birds, said Atkinson, who has helped organize the event for more than 20 years.
“The only thing we don’t have is an aircraft,” he joked.
The data is shared locally and with the Audubon Society. It often shows changes in land use or climate patterns in the area.
“Think of the Christmas Bird Count as science as sport,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson suspects the final tally often falls short of true totals, especially when it comes to smaller woodland species like sparrows, chickadees, juncos, thrushes or woodpeckers. Those birds tend to “hunker down” during the winter to conserve energy and stay away from predators.
Although his volunteers cover all of the public lands contained in the circle, they’re limited when it comes to residential areas. And there’s plenty of neighborhoods near “greenbelts,” or undeveloped areas that usually offers suitable habitat for birds.
Homeowners in those spots have a better chance of spotting peepers that the other counters may not, Atkinson said.
“Right now the really hot thing is people who live in private property and they are invested in just counting what shows up in their yard,” Atkinson said. “If they have a feeder, that’s even better.”
Bird feeders help draw birds out for an easy snack. (High-energy foods like suet prove especially beloved in cold weather, Atkinson noted). As they feast, the ease of identifying and counting them increases.
“A good feeder will actually be a total game changer, because birds that normally would never come within easy viewing distance, suddenly they are right down at a feeder and you can get a great look,” Atkinson said.
Home-based volunteers get “extra credit” if they a stroll around their neighborhood on their counts, he added.
Last year the count set an “all-time record” for volunteers, with 154 people returning a tally. Atkinson hopes to draw even more counters this year.
And you don’t have to be an avian expert to lend a hand, Atkinson said. The seasoned bird nerd helps train newcomers. His materials include a “cheat sheet” with pictures and names for the most common and easily identifiable birds.
Those living within the count’s boundaries who want to participate should text or email Atkinson at 425-210-2716 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For most participants, it only takes one year to become hooked, he said.
“I just look forward to this all year because it’s something that’s generally healthy and involves a very wide sweep of people united by their interests in good exercise and fascination by wild birds.”
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.
Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; email@example.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.
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