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Every winter dozens of birders flock to areas in Southern Maryland to take an inventory of their flying feathered friends.
Anyone interested in helping with any of several counts in the region can contact one of the coordinators via the Southern Maryland Audubon Society’s website.
Bob Boxwell, the executive director of Cove Point Natural Heritage Trust, is coordinating the Point Lookout count this Sunday, Dec. 22. He said the volunteer observers are always hoping to see something rare to the region, but it’s important to get a count on all types of birds. “You’re counting everything,” Boxwell said.
The Point Lookout count has been an annual occurrence since at least the 1970s, he said. That track record allows birders and others to see long-term trends in the winter bird population.
“We’re looking for some of the usual stuff that shows up in the winter around here, too,” including a number of types of ducks, like the Barrow’s goldeneye and the eider, he said.
Also, birders may see animals that shouldn’t necessarily be here this time of the year, like pelicans, which in recent years have remained too far north and experienced frostbite and malnutrition while trying to winter in Southern Maryland waters.
Some birds that used to be somewhat common haven’t shown up on the count for many years, such as the grosbeaks, he said. Others, like the Canada geese, come in large numbers nowadays.
“Our goal is to try to break 100 species,” said Andy Brown, a naturalist at Battle Creek Cyprus Swamp who coordinates the Patuxent River bird count, which will be held on Dec. 29. In recent years, Patuxent spotters have come close by observing more than 90 different species, but have not broken 100, he said. Last year a spotter observed a common redpoll, which is a type of arctic finch, possibly for the first time during the Patuxent Christmas bird count, Brown said.
“Every Christmas bird count is designed the same way,” Brown said. An area is designated within a 15-mile radius from a specific point, known as the “count circle.” Only birds spotted within that range can be counted.
The Patuxent River count is centered at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and includes a chunk of St. Mary’s, including Elms Beach and St. Mary’s River State Park, as well as southern Calvert County from south of Flag Ponds and Williams Wharf Road, Brown said.
The Point Lookout count is centered at Kitts Point and includes most of southern St. Mary’s County.
The Jug Bay count, which happened Dec. 15, stretches into northern Calvert County. There are also counts in Charles County based at Fort Belvoir and Port Tobacco each winter.
Earlier this month the local birding world was chirping about a confirmed sighting of a snowy owl in Calvert County.
“That’s one of the things we’re definitely going to be looking for,” Boxwell said.
He said the owls have been heading south from their usual habitat, which includes Canada and northern New England.
As the population of snowy owls goes through a cyclical boom period, Boxwell said, the species tends to fly to the farther limits of its usual range.
“They’ve come a lot farther south than they normally would,” he said.
Bird counts scheduled
The Southern Maryland Audubon Society will participate in Christmas Bird Counts through Jan. 5. The data collected by observers during the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists and others to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. To participate in any of the counts, go to www.somdaudubon.
Dec. 22 — Point Lookout Count Bob Boxwell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dec. 29 — Patuxent River Andy Brown, email@example.com
Jan. 5 — Fort Belvoir Carol Ghebelian, firstname.lastname@example.org