The first count was in 1900 in 25 locations in the United States.
“And this year they’ll be over two-thousand Christmas counts with more than 60-thousand people participating. Those people will count millions of birds across the United States and now in many foreign countries as well.”
That’s Fred Collins the director of the Kleb Woods Nature Center in Tomball. He says there are 22 count circles alone in the Houston area and along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. This year the Christmas Bird Count runs from today through January 5th. Each “circle” gets to pick the one day in that period it will conduct its count so birders can take part in more than one.
“I’ll probably do four this year.”
The Texas coast is among the best places on the planet to see birds. And along the coast the Mad Island Marsh count circle in Matagorda County has had the highest count any where for the last ten years. Brent Ortego is a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife in Victoria. He says Mad Island Marsh has several things going for it. One is the tree lined Colorado River that runs right through the count circle.
“So we have all that nice forested area along the river, we have the waters of the gulf; the beaches; the bays; the marshes. We have great areas of native grasslands and brush lands, when you mix it all together its tremendous diversity.”
And there are several different eco-systems in the area too. It also helps that like many birders Brent Ortego is really into it.
“I start looking for owls about midnight, and I’ll be surveying owls and rails during the dark until daybreak.”
Today Ortego and about a hundred others are trying to keep Mad Island Marsh at the top of the Christmas Bird Count heap.
Tomorrow is the day for the Galveston Island count. Dick Peake is one of its organizers and says the bird population there is still affected by hurricane Ike.
“It’s the damage to the habitat. Our birds had not so much been killed but they had gone over to the mainland and some of them have come back and some haven’t.”
While many who volunteer for the day long count are experienced birders, Fred Collins says novice birders also take part.
“We have a lot of people who are beginning birders who come out and participate in these Christmas counts. We pair them up with some more experienced people and they have a chance to participate in the count and learn a lot about birds.”
To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count, visit the Houston Audubon Society website.