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Bird Count Brings Old Friends And New Scientists Together

Every year from December 14 through January 5, bird enthusiasts and citizen scientists throughout North America spend a day counting species.

At George Washington's Birthplace National Monument three men who have been participating in the count for the last 45 years renewed their friendship with a search for feathers.

Chuck Gibson met Bill Portlock and Kent Ihrman at Old Dominion University in 1973. " And we took an ornithology course and started going out with the Audubon Christmas count at that point and continued ever since," Gibson explained.

The three have changed with the times. Cassette tapes made from vinyl albums replaced old-fashioned bird-calling. Today, Irhman uses a phone app that broadcasts bird calls to a bluetooth speaker mounted on his car roof. It brings in what's called a mob of bird that come to scare off the unseen predator.

If you think birding is boring, you should her Gibson talk about their most unusual spotting. "A flamingo. It was on the Bodie Island count in North Carolina and we figured it was an escapee from New Jersey, Gibson joked. "But if you look at the Sibley Guide there is a green dot for a flamingo over Cape Hatteras, that was us."

At the end of the day, the three met up with other birders in the region to tally their count. In all, they saw 99 species including two rare ones - the Lapland Longspur and the Northern Shrike, both spotted by the Northern Virginia Teen Bird Club. Sam, one of the new generation of birders is a high school senior from Reston with plans to make his passion a job.  "I just got into Virginia Tech," he noted, "and so I'm going to be studying natural resources and ecology and majoring in wildlife conservation."

The numbers will be sent to the Audubon Society to help scientists study the long-term status of birds on the continent. 

Click here for more about the Audubon Society's bird count

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.