During this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count, the annual global citizen science data collection event, birders worldwide spotted 6,519 species on 191,507 different checklists.
Seventy-nine of those species were found in Carroll County on 114 different local checklists, according to GBBC data, with a sighting of 700 Canada geese at the top of the list followed by a sighting of 142 common mergansers.
Those who submitted checklists in Carroll ranged from traveling bird enthusiasts to recreational birdwatchers who did exactly as the event required — count birds from their backyard.
Backyard on Bachman
“The previous owners of this house had strong cable between two trees, and then they hung all their bird feeders from the cable,” Bachman Valley Road resident Carol Wheatley told the Times last week. “So it creates this really good place for bird feeders, because the squirrels can’t get on it; the squirrels have to make do with what’s on the ground.
“And it gives you a good vantage point to view from the windows in the back of the house,” she said.
Among Wheatley’s GBBC findings in her backyard during the count were 20 American crows, two red-breasted nuthatches and a Cooper’s hawk.
She’s been living in Carroll for 20 years and participating in the bird count since 2010.
“Our cats like to watch them, and you know, it just is nice to have that activity going on all the time outside the windows,” said Wheatley. “So when you’re washing dishes after dinner you can watch the birds come back and forth.
Since the bird count calls for 15-minute intervals for each checklist, she said it doesn’t take much effort and she just keeps her schedule light on GBBC weekends.
“I usually try and do a count at least once, first in the morning when there are lots of birds coming in for the breakfast,” Wheatley said, “and usually once in the evening. And if I see anybody that comes through that’s interesting in the middle I say, ‘OK, time to count.’ ”
“It’s not a big imposition to do this,” she said. “It’s fun.”
The GBBC is a collaboration between birders, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. It was scheduled from Feb. 15 to Feb. 18 this year in order to catch a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations ramp up in March.
Combined with other surveys, GBBC information helps scientists learn how birds are affected by environmental changes, the website states in its Frequently Asked Questions section.
“The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year,” it states. “Data gathered over many years help highlight how a species’ range may be expanding or shrinking.
“A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should receive attention,” it continues. “GBBC information also allows us to look at what kinds of birds inhabit different areas, such as cities and suburbs compared to more natural habitats.”
Although the count started off in North America, it went global in 2013, creating snapshots of birds wherever they are in February, regardless of seasons across the hemispheres.
And even though many local Marylanders counted birds in their backyards — Piney Run Park, Krimgold Park, Study Road Pond and Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area were listed as Carroll County’s hot spots for the GBBC this year.
Out and about
Reisterstown resident and Gerstell Academy history teacher David Greenspoon was one of the birders out at Morgan Run that weekend.
“I like the connection to nature,” he said, “and the fun of spotting rarities and seeing how the birds change in the seasons is always rewarding.”
Greenspoon has been birding for the past 4 ½ years, and said that his walk through the preserve this year didn’t yield anything out of the ordinary.
He saw 18 species during his walk — including 12 white-throated sparrows, eight northern cardinals, five song sparrows, two golden-crowned kinglets, and a red-shouldered hawk, among others — and enjoys traversing the state to find more.
“Maryland is really nice because it has so many different environments,” Greenspoon said. “You could go to Ocean City, be right on the ocean. There are species out there that are basically impossible to find in Central Maryland. The more serious birders in Maryland will get over 300 species in a year.”
Greenspoon said his count for himself is a little more than 200 different species.
“It’s one of those things, like northern cardinal counts,” he said. “Everyone sees a northern cardinal.
“But as you get to higher and higher numbers — if I get to 205 birds, that 206 bird is probably something that’s rarer and rarer,” said Greenspoon. “You see cardinal after cardinal after cardinal, blue jay after blue jay after blue jay. So when something really rare happens, then it’s spectacular.”
Traveling for rarities
Mount Airy resident Scott Hodgdon had a run-in with a rarity this past weekend.
He learned there was a rare bird seen at Virginia Beach through the Cornell Lab’s eBird online database — a tufted duck. So he planned a last-minute weekend trip with his son to seek out the species, which usually is only spotted in Europe.
“It’s the first time we have a chance to see one that’s so close to home,” Hodgdon told the Times on Friday before they left. “A 10-hour trip to find one bird.”
The birder has lived in Mount Airy for 24 years and is also a member of the Carroll County Bird Club, where he participates in its seasonal bird counts as well as the GBBC.
Hodgdon’s GBBC checklist included a downy woodpecker, brown creeper, Carolina wren, northern mockingbird and turkey vulture.
He said he’s been bird watching since he was a child, and got his son into it at 4 years old. They watch birds in their backyard with his wife and their dog, and at a local farm.
“I love to see the diversity of God’s creation,” Hodgdon said, “and then the challenge of, ‘What did I see?’ A lot of times it’s simple and easy — ‘That's common; I know that bird.’ Other times … you have to check your guides.”
Bringing birds to the backyard
But birders don’t have to go far to get a good show, they just need to know what to put outside their windows.
Once Laura O’Callaghan started filling her bird-feeders with hulled sunflower seeds, she realized she found the golden ticket.
“Everybody’s kind of the usual gang [this season],” she told the Times last week. “But we have four bluebirds, which is very exciting because we’ve never seen bluebirds in winter before.
“We started feeding them cracked black sunflower seeds, which is where you have them out of the hull, and they love that,” O’Callaghan said. “So they have been coming to the feeders all winter.”
O’Callaghan has lived in Finksburg for the past 30 years and keeps nine bird feeders behind the house. She said she and her husband are not very serious bird watchers, but they enjoy seeing nature outside their window and when they go out.
Her GBBC checklist included species like red-winged blackbirds, grackles, goldfinches, nuthatches and chickadees.
“We love to put out different types of seeds,” said O’Callaghan. “So we put out the chipped sunflower seed. And then we put out thistle seed, which really just the little finches — goldfinches and house finches — like.”
She puts out safflower seed for the cardinals and other little birds, and suet for woodpeckers and grackles. Blue jays and nuthatches, though, like peanuts, she advised.
“I put out just straight peanuts in their shell,” she said. “I put out a batch of about 20, 30, and the blue jays will get it within 20 minutes. They just all fly in, which is great fun to watch.