By Malcolm Griffes, AmeriCorps Urban Environmental Educator
Morning sun reflecting off dewed branches welcomed families as they arrived for the Seattle Audubon’s Youth Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The now annual Youth CBC is a family-focused version of the Christmas Bird Count and was held this year in December at Discovery Park. Groups embark on a two-hour bird count, walking the park and noting as many individual birds as they can. In its second year, the Youth CBC had a spike in popularity, with a record number of 43 participants on hand this year. Birders ranged from parents with strollers, to adolescents and teens with their own binoculars, allowing us to split into two groups. As Black-capped Chickadees skirted through the brush, both groups set out into the park to begin the count.
With her scope perched on her shoulder, Master Birder Etta Cosey led the way for the younger group, taking a shorter route, weaving around the trails of Discovery Park, skirting forests and passing through fields. Kids and parents alike were enthralled by a visit from a Varied Thrush, which took a perch on a branch near the trail, and while the songbird was quiet, it definitely made for a ‘good look’. The Varied Thrush’s family member, the American Robin, excited the group, as the number of spotted individuals steadily grew. First 10, then 30, then 50, finally ending with a count of 76, making the robin, easily, the largest number of a single species spotted for the day. While not an uncommon species, this was a bird that all the children on this walk now knew by sight.
Meanwhile, the older group led by Master Birders Alan Grenon and Brendan McGarry flocked slightly further afield. They made their way down to the beach where a number of seabirds were able to be added to the count: particularly of note, two Ancient Murrelets. After leaving the beach and continuing up a wooded trail on the return loop, the group was met by a familiar visitor: a Varied Thrush, its orange accents helping it stand out against the slowly graying day.
After the count was finished, both groups reconvened back at the Environmental Learning Center in Discovery Park to warm up with hot chocolates and compile their lists. The total count, 31 species, is a commendable number for a two hour count, and especially seeing as it was, for many of the participants, their first bird count. However, and perhaps more importantly, the engagement and enthusiasm from the group was clear. Whether they were connecting with like-minded birders their age, or for the first time finding the joy of being outside birding, there was a detectible excitement. This excitement was exemplified by one young counter, who forwent the hot chocolate and gummy snacks to ask a Master Birder if they could help train a scope on a perched bird, then confidently identified it as a robin. With a sense of accomplishment, some holiday cheer, and cups of warm hot chocolate, smiling families began to migrate.
If you attended and enjoyed the Youth CBC, or missed out, and still want to participate in a bird count as a family, our Feeder Count is happening on December 29th. Feeder Watch is a great way for families to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. For more information, or to register for the Feeder Count, visit us HERE.
Happy Holiday Birding!