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CBC is coming! Christmas means one thing: Time to count some birds 

Cal Elshoff of Bend and Mt. Chickadee of the forest looking each other in the eye. Before you go any further, pick up your indelible

click to enlarge Cal Elshoff of Bend and Mt. Chickadee of the forest looking each other in the eye.
  • Cal Elshoff of Bend and Mt. Chickadee of the forest looking each other in the eye.
Cal Elshoff of Bend and Mt. Chickadee of the forest looking each other in the eye.
Before you go any further, pick up your indelible pen and mark the dates of December 14 through January 5, 2009 and write "CBC." Those are the dates for the 109th Christmas Bird Count, from which ornithologists, biologists, land managers, habitat scientists and millions of birders throughout the country glean data and great fun regarding birds. Can't beat that, no matter what.

During this time, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the New World of the Americas - North, South and points in-between - will take part in a family birding tradition that has no end of joy and scientific value.

I know that to be a fact, as I have been doing the CBC ever since my oldest son, Dean was five years old. Now, Dean has five young-and-up-and-coming birders of his own. Specifically, for over 20 years I have been conducting my part of the local CBC in Bend's Arnold District, a part of the ten-mile count circle out near Knott landfill.

The CBC invites thousands of "Citizen Scientists" to take up their binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides and thermos bottles of hot coffee and tea and take to the field to identify and count every bird they observe in one day. You name the place, it's almost a sure bet in that period of time someone will be conducting a CBC somewhere in Oregon that you have either been to before, or would like to join for the first time.

Summer Lake, Malheur, Fossil, Bend, Redmond, Astoria, Salem, Gates - you-name-it - there will be many opportunities for you to get involved in the CBC of your choice. Watch the papers; go to the East Cascade Bird Conservancy, or CBC websites for dates, times, leader's names, and where to meet. I must tell you, this old man used to be a waterfowl hunter. On Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, my uncles, grandfather and I took to the fields and marshes to kill ducks and geese. Oh, sure we ate them - it was during the tail end of the Great Depression; we had to.

One year, my Uncle Ben pulled the skin off a black duck he'd shot and skinned over his head, inside out. Wings sticking out from the sides, legs branching up like horns, and the neck wobbling on the top of his head. It was so grotesque that although I knew what it was, it scared me half to death. He then went to the kitchen window where my grandmother was sitting at the table cleaning the ducks and scratched on the glass. She about dropped over with fright! Kids...

The CBC was established in 1900 by one of America's legendary birders, Frank Chapman, as an alternative to killing birds by counting them alive instead. But I don't think anyone will ever come up with an alternative for kids scaring their parent's out of 10 years of life - it's what boys do.

Since that turn-of-the-century beginning, millions of Citizen Scientists have provided bird data for the scientific community to use - the likes of which no other organization has ever enjoyed. Even the Bird Banding Lab, which has also been in existence for almost as many years, probably hasn't gathered that much data.

Counting species is the first step toward learning how environmental threats and solutions are affecting the bird world. These data are literally, the "canaries in the coal mine" that provide an early warning indicator of the health of the Earth we all share. The four "B's:" babies, birds, butterflies and bats are biological indicators of the wrong and right ways we're treating Mother Earth.

Last year, the first "Kid's Count" was conducted in California's Sonoma Valley. On a brisk morning (probably "brisk" to Sonoma Valley was in the 40's, not what "brisk" is here), 34 children and more than 20 families gathered with local birders at the Sonoma Community center and embarked on a new Citizen Scientist adventure.

I'll bet there are a bunch of kids who would like to take part in one of the CBC areas this year. If you know of anyone who wants to go, and cannot find a way to take them, have them contact my wife and I, and we'll see if we can stuff he, she or them in with us or someone else. If you want to get in on a count, Google CBC, or our local ECBC website, and sign on.

Don't miss the 2008 CBC, Good People. In the words of the last election: "My name is Jim Anderson, and I approve of this message."


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