LI participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Members of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society

Members of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society take a birding walk at Ditch Plains in Montauk in 2013. (Credit: Sally Newbert/Eastern Long Island Audubon Society)

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Want to be part of a worldwide science project? It's as easy as 1-2-3. The Great Backyard Bird Count, known as Citizen Science, is a global effort to document the location of birds in winter. It begins Friday and runs through Monday.

Although many will count the birds around their backyard feeders, you also could throw out some birdseed in your yard and see which birds show up, or just note what flies around your shrubs and trees. You also could take a guided walk. That's the great thing about this project -- there's not just one way to do it.

A SNAPSHOT

"The count is a snapshot from year to year," says Pat Leonard, coordinator of the Great Backyard Bird Count for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which compiles the data. "But the real value is over time."

Leonard explains that the count helps determine trends and gives an indication of what is going on in the birds' environment.

"If we don't have people counting, it is kind of a black hole out there, and we don't know what is going on," Leonard says. "When the West Nile virus hit, it hit the crow population first. We had a 35 percent drop in the American crow. We wouldn't have seen that if there weren't a lot of people counting."

The count also can indicate changing migration and ranging patterns. For example, the presence of snowy owls has excited local birders this winter.

"We've seen a huge eruption of snowy owls across the Northeast and Great Lakes," Leonard says, and that's due to the recent arctic blasts bringing the species farther south than usual.

While seeing a snowy owl or bald eagle is a feather in a birder's cap, the count is about all birds, not just unusual ones.

TAKING PART

Those with feeders are encouraged to spend at least 15 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon counting which species visit and how many of each. Once you've got your count, visit birdsource.org to upload your results. You also can upload photos for the annual photo contest.

"If you don't have a feeder but have a nice yard with shrubs and trees, you can count that way," says MaryLaura Lamont, park ranger at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach, who will be leading a 3-mile walk during the weekend.

An organized walk allows those new to birding to enjoy the experience without having to keep an official count, which is usually done by the walk leader.

SPECIES YOU MIGHT SEE

Whether you're planning to join a group or go it alone, visit

birdsource.org or one of the local Audubon websites to bone up on birds commonly spotted on Long Island.

"This time of year at your feeder you can expect to see blue jays, white-throated sparrows, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice," says Lamont. Other likely sightings in parks include seagulls, ducks, geese and herons. Leonard says those who walk near the water may luck into a glimpse of a bald eagle as it hunts for fish.

Byron Young, 68, of Ridge, a lifelong birder and president of the Eastern Long Island Audubon Society, says this is a great time of year for water fowl -- several varieties of ducks are making stopovers on Long Island.

Young says that as of late January, birders had counted 160 different species of birds on Long Island. He says he has seen up to a dozen species in his backyard on any given day.

"Even if you're just seeing chickadees, it is important," Leonard says "You're reporting on both presence and absence. This is telling us what is going on out there. We need all your information."

ORGANIZED EVENTS

MASTIC BEACH

WHEN | WHERE 9-11 a.m. Saturday, William Floyd Estate, 245 Park Dr., Mastic Beach

INFO 631-399-2030

ADMISSION Free

Bring binoculars, 3-mile hike takes about two hours

SMITH POINT

WHEN |WHERE 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Center, southernmost end of William Floyd Parkway, Smith Point

INFO 631-687-4780 (weekdays), 631-281-3010 (weekends), nps.gov/fiis

ADMISSION Free

Free parking at Smith Point County Par. Meet inside Wilderness Visitor Center for a 1.5-mile walk from ocean to bay beaches

FIRE ISLAND

WHEN |WHERE  9-11 a.m., meet in Parking Field No. 5 for a 1.5-mile walk to explore ocean, swell and bay habitats along the way to the Fire Island Lighthouse.

INFO 631-687-4780 (weekdays), 631-281-3010 (weekends), nps.gov/fiis

ADMISSION Free

 

GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT

WHEN | WHERE Friday-Monday, international effort organized by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

INFO birdcount.org

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