“Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying … four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The 12 days of Christmas gifts are 41.6% bird-related, as if the birds themselves carry the holiday in on their wings.
Local birders know the magic of seeing trumpeter swans, ducks and Canada geese against Washington’s silver December skies. This makes Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 the perfect time for the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which are held in thousands of different 15-mile diameter circles all across the country. The project is now entering its 122nd year.
Dalton Spencer, a 2019 Adna High School graduate, first organized a local count five years ago. Even while he’s been studying conservation biology and ecology at Montana State University, he continues to organize the annual event.
“The Christmas Bird Count is advertised as the largest and longest running citizen science project in the world,” Spencer said.
Though Lewis County’s CBC is usually held on the Friday before Christmas, it will instead be held on Wednesday, Dec. 22 this year. The area’s counting circle covers Centralia, Chehalis, Galvin, Centralia Alpha Road, parts of Adna and Napavine, and rounds off just southeast of the Newaukum North Fork.
The area was first mapped out by Spencer in order to give the most inclusive representation of Lewis County bird happenings, from urban settings to wetlands. The circle was divided into nine different sections for counters, and some of those sections into sub-sections. Each year, he gets around 35 to 45 volunteers, who are assigned to different areas. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Audubon is encouraging volunteers to split into small groups. The count takes place over the entire 24 hours.
“The area around Centralia has several people who basically just walk a bunch of the residential streets in Centralia, because those birds are still just as important as the thousands of ducks that we get out on Pleasant Valley,” Spencer said.
Unfortunately, the circle doesn’t touch the far south or east Lewis County areas, but experienced birders out those ways could still get involved by signing up for the Dec. 22 count and driving into the area. Ambitious birders could also organize their own circles in those areas.
Many of the counters are returning pros, though newcomers can be paired with others. Spencer said his hope was to get more folks who are staying home and counting backyard and feeder birds.
“Birds that come to their feeders and their backyards, that's usually our biggest gap in our data,” Spencer said. “It’s really difficult to get into people's backyards, obviously.”
Plus, feeder-watching can be just as exciting as getting out into the mud for ducks. One year, Spencer and a friend saw a black-headed grosbeak at a feeder on count day. Theirs was only the third or fourth ever recorded winter sighting of one in Washington.
Other exciting birds local groups have seen during the CBC include canvasback ducks, sandhill cranes and quail.
“We're not paid, we're not getting any monetary gain out of any of this. We do it because we love birds and we love counting birds and just kind of the whole atmosphere and the whole environment around the Christmas Bird Count, and this long tradition,” he said.
Maps of official counting circles for the CBC can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/svotc8z.
Those interested in learning more about the Lewis County CBC can email Dalton Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.