HUBBARD LAKE - The Thunder Bay Audubon Society will host its annual Hubbard Lake Christmas bird count on Thursday with the help of local members and volunteers.
Part of a National Audubon Society tradition dating back to 1900 with 27 participants nationwide, Hubbard Lake's participation in the onithoscopic event originally started in 1969 and ended in 1972 when its organizers moved out of the area. Current TBAS President Linda Klemens said she and her husband restarted the local count in 2003 at the behest of interested members. Scheduled within a two-week interval each December, the National Audubon Society's Christmas bird count now receives observations from over 78,000 participants nationwide as well as over 30 other countries.
Klemens said Thursday's bird count will start just before daybreak as she and about 30 other TBAS members and volunteers scout designated areas to get a tally of specific bird species. Most will be feeder counters, who stay at home or browse their neighborhoods to observe birds in the morning, noon and late afternoon, recording species names and submitting the highest tally of each species they find. Some will be field counters, paired according to experience level, who walk or drive through designated sections of the counting area with a map and tally sheet to list species and count every specimen they see.
The area itself is a 15-mile-wide circle around a centerpoint at the intersection of Swede Road and Gillard, one that stretches south to Lost Lake Woods, east through Negwegon State Park to the shore of Lake Huron, north to Nicholson Hill Road, and west to the western shore of Hubbard Lake. Klemens said the circle is divided into six sections to be covered by different teams, and though they are careful not to enter private property without permission, some continue looking until sundown to be as thorough as possible.
"(The National Audubon Society) wanted to know what food source is available, and then they want to determine what birds stay all winter in an area, what birds still move around ... It's to determine what's going on in the bird world," she said. "The excitement of the count is to try and top last year's or previous years' records. It's to try and get the highest number of different species and it's to try and get the largest number of individual birds that you can get. Last year we had 43 species, and we had an individual count of 2,570 birds."
She added that the recent increase in international involvement, combined with each May's North American migration count, gives NAS a clearer picture of bird behavior and movement patterns throughout the year; for instance, bad winters in Canada tend to yield higher December bird counts in the U.S. as many species seek food supplies to the south. Klemens said this often leads to rare bird sightings.
"The really exciting thing is to find a rare bird, a bird that is out of its area for some reason," she said. "We have had a lot of rare birds in the past. And then they have to be completely documented. The very best way is with a picture, but also, all of the counters have my phone number and Bill (Griff)'s phone number, and if anybody sees something rare, we ask them to immediately call us."
She said it also illustrates trends that are potentially important to DNR or conservation efforts, like the fact that birds that used to be found only in southern Michigan are expanding their territories further north while Canadian lumbering and harvesting drives other species south.
Once tallied, the final results of the count will be submitted to the Michigan and National Audubon Societies for use by governmental agencies, environmental groups and the public. Klemens said anyone can sign up to help, and each person's help counts.
"Everyone who counts is called a citizen scientist. That's a name National Audubon calls every bird counter, because we are completing a massive science project," she said.
Thunder Bay Audubon Society will also host Christmas bird counts in Alpena and Rogers City on Dec. 17 and 18, respectively. For more information about the Hubbard Lake or Alpena bird counts, contact Linda Klemens at 727-4703. For more information on the Rogers City bird count, contact Bill Griff at 734-4385.
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693.