Newsletter of the Columbia Audubon Society | December 2019 | Volume 62, Number 4
By John Besser, Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) President
The Christmas Bird Count is probably the longest-standing activity of the National Audubon Society. The genius of this early “citizen science” project lies in its simplicity and consistency over the years. Each group participating in the CBC submits a list of all the birds (species and number) seen in a 15-mile diameter count circle over a 24-hour period. This simple framework has stood the test of time, and the resulting database with over a century of counts has proven invaluable to many bird researchers and conservation organizations.
For local CBC participants, counting birds on cold December day is a cherished tradition, as is congregating to share a chili dinner and tally the results of our day’s count. The chili dinner is one of the most popular social events on the Columbia Audubon Society annual calendar, but I suspect that its popularity is due more to the chili and conversation than to the l-o-n-g process of tabulating the counts of each species across each section of the count circle. This ‘Long Count’ is not only tedious, it is prone to errors, as tallies can be easily skipped or misunderstood.
Bird counting has come a long way since the early 1900s, and we now have access to a marvelous new technology: eBird, the online bird database. I suspect that most participants in the Columbia CBC use eBird to keep track of their bird checklists, or at least their life lists. Many groups that participate in the CBC now use eBird to tally the birds seen in their count circle. The main difference between eBird checklists and CBC tallies is that all birds seen in a CBC count circle on the count day are totaled and submitted in aggregate to the National Audubon Society database. In contrast, eBird emphasizes recording checklists for discrete locations such as “birding hotspots”, and they do not want data that has been aggregated over large areas. The simple solution for making eBird data compatible with the CBC database is that each group simply needs to submit one or more eBird checklists representing all the areas that they birded during the CBC. Once all the checklists for a count circle are submitted to eBird, it is a simple process to download the data and format it to be compatible with the Audubon CBC database.
You may be thinking that this approach would take all the fun out of the chili dinner. But I would argue that the chili will taste just as good without the long count, and we can still compile a species list after dinner. We will still find out … Who saw the rarest species? Who found the most screech owls? (spoiler alert: it‘s Paul M)? And, most importantly, did we pass the magical 100 species barrier?
I suspect that once we get used to using eBird to compile our CBC data, we won’t miss the old manual counts. But nobody said we have to go cold turkey on this process. I am suggesting that we treat this year as a trial run and see if we can come up with the same answers using eBird that we get with the traditional method. All I ask is that anyone who compiles one or more lists during the Christmas Bird Count this year please share an eBird list with the CAS eBird group account, as well as to those who run the traditional compilation.
Please see this document for suggestions on preparing checklists with CBC data in eBird and for sharing these checklists with the Columbia Audubon Society’s eBird group account (username = casbirddata).
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Cancellation procedure for field trips: We are entering the time of year when snowy/icy/frigid/uncertain weather can mess with field trip plans, resulting in conditions that fall somewhere in a spectrum from ambiguously iffy to clearly dangerous. Sometimes the decision to cancel or postpone may be made on short notice. The CAS website is generally the source for the most up-to-date information, but if the field trip leader is a Facebook user (our Field Trip Chair is not), a notice could show up on the Columbia Audubon Facebook page first, so check both. Given inherent uncertainty of weather forecasts, even if the website indicates the trip is on, participants are encouraged to make their own assessment of the safety of winter weather conditions before deciding to attend.
Also, some field trips may be scheduled only 5-10 days or so in advance, particularly when there is some indication that the forecast will be favorable. Monitor the CAS website, the Columbia Audubon Facebook group, and/or your email (if you’re subscribed to event listings) for announcements of field trips on shorter notice. And let Eric Reuter know if you have one you would like to lead.
by Joanna Reuter
At the November membership meeting, Margy Terpstra spoke about “Why Our Yards Are So Important to the Full Life-cycle Conservation of Our Native Birds”. Members of the sizable audience were treated to many beautiful bird photos and an inspiring example of the benefits of managing habitat with a purpose. The guiding principles followed by Margy and her husband Dan include use of diverse native plants and avoidance of pesticides. When choosing plants for their 0.6 acre yard, they consider (among other things) how many species of lepidopteran (butterfly/moth) caterpillars the plants will support; caterpillars, after all, are food for many birds including warblers. Diversity in plant structure also provides cover for birds. Plus, they built and maintain an all-season bubbler that attracts birds with its gurgling sound and provides a place for birds to bathe after a long flight; at this spot alone, they’ve compiled a species list 122 birds long.
If you feel inspired to make your yard more attractive to birds, winter is a great time to do some planning. Here are two handouts that Margy provided:
You can find out what Margy and Dan are seeing by following their Shady Oaks blog, which is routinely updated with photos and observations of birds and other wildlife.
by Joanna Reuter
In this season of giving, gifts for people can also benefit birds by sharing knowledge, providing food, and enhancing habitat. Here’s a brainstorm of ideas for a range of budgets and interests:
Official meeting minutes will be posted to the website after approval at each subsequent board meeting. Below are brief notes about some topics discussed on November 20, 2019. Please contact a board member with any questions.
The article on Hog Island scholarship recipients in the previous issue of The Chat incorrectly identified one of the participants; this has been corrected to Andrew Crawford in the online edition. Thank you to Emily Reynolds for pointing this out.
Carrying out our mission through education, conservation, and outreach takes a wide variety of resources, from the valued time of dedicated volunteers to the financial support of members and donors. We welcome and appreciate all participants and supporters of our work through their generous donations of time, money, or other resources.
The Chat is published online on the first of every month from September through May. Submissions are welcome, including photographs, stories, and brief notes about bird or nature observations. Please contact News Editor Joanna Reuter with submissions, feedback, or suggestions for content. The submission deadline is the 25th of each month.
by Eric Reuter, Field Trip Chair
As Field Trip Chair, I have been researching liability questions for non-profits engaged in outdoor activities; this has opened a can of worms that must now be addressed. Because field trips are a core part of the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) mission, the board has approved my formation of a committee to discuss and address matters such as:
I am seeking volunteers willing to serve on such a committee; please contact me. Any members are welcome, but members with legal or insurance experience would be especially appreciated.
Liability is something that all non-profits and businesses must consider in the modern world. CAS has insurance that covers our own properties, but currently has no coverage for any liability involved in organizing field trips in the surrounding region. Field trips do involve some risk, from the inherent dangers involved in driving and carpooling to the variety of injuries or illnesses that can result from spending time outdoors. (Unfortunately, the fact that field trips can provide considerable physical and mental health benefits—fresh air, exercise, interaction with nature, camaraderie, mental stimulation, and so forth—counts for nothing with regard to financial liability.) CAS, or its individual trip leaders, could be held liable for any problem that arises, whether through an individual lawsuit or a claim pursued by an insurance company. This poses a potential threat to the group’s financial and operational stability.
The National Audubon Society recommends a liability policy offered by Pachner & Associates that is specifically designed for local Audubon chapters. However, Treasurer Eric Seaman reports that this policy requires CAS to adopt a liability waiver that must be signed by all field trip participants, something that is increasingly common for such groups across the country. In fact, we cannot even get a direct quote on the policy until we design and present a proposed waiver for approval by the insurance company. One task of the committee will be to address proposed waiver design (hopefully minimizing bureaucracy and intrusiveness).
This work is timely as we continue to offer field trips throughout the winter, though we may hold back on longer-range carpool-based trips while this issue is being resolved. I’d also be interested in any feedback members may want to provide on the specific issue of liability or the more general question of field trip management (we may end up conducting an official member poll of some kind, another question for the committee).
by Nancy Bedan, CAS CoMoGives Committee
Mid-Missouri residents can make donations to any of 138 nonprofit organizations through the 2019 CoMoGives fundraiser during the month of December. These organizations, Columbia Audubon Society included, offer exceptional programs and services to our community. The Community Foundation of Central Missouri coordinates the fund drive and provides a single website—comogives.com—where gifts can be made to any of the participating groups.
Columbia Audubon uses funds received through the CoMoGives drive to create and maintain a 13-acre native prairie on the 28-acre Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary and the city’s adjacent Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary; provide the annual Band with Nature field trip for 1,000-plus second graders in Columbia Public Schools; and provide scholarships for older students and teachers to attend science and nature-education programs.
Columbia Audubon is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff and big goals. Donations received through the CoMoGives fund drive supplement membership dues and give the CAS annual budget a much-needed boost. Like other CoMoGives organizations, we’re focused on implementing our core programs. We just don’t have the time or energy or expertise to organize fundraisers. We’re grateful to the Community Foundation of Central Missouri for coordinating CoMoGives and helping small organizations like CAS raise funds to support our work.
Things to remember:
If you want to support Columbia Audubon’s programs but aren’t comfortable with online giving, you can always write a check. Make donation checks payable to Columbia Audubon Society and mail them to: Columbia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 1331, Columbia, MO 65205.
Columbia Audubon Society would appreciate your support during this season of giving.
If you are 70 ½ or older and have an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), you can ask your IRA plan administrator to make a gift directly to Columbia Audubon Society through the annual CoMoGives fund drive. By using your IRA for a donation, you can lower the taxes on your required minimum distribution (RMD). The portion of your RMD that is donated directly to a 501(c)(3) organization is tax-free. Also, this type of donation does not require you to itemize, so you can apply the standard deduction as well. Contact your IRA plan administrator and your tax advisor for details.
by John Besser and Bill Mees
Those attending the October CAS membership meeting at Fairview Elementary School heard about plans for a new ‘nature school’ from Mike Szydlowski, Science Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools (CPS). This exciting facility will be located on a 207-acre tract donated by the Hank Waters and Vicki Russell, located off US Hwy 63 near Three Creeks Conservation Area (see graphic). The land has been donated to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and it will be leased to CPS.
On November 6, we met with members of the project’s planning committee at the site and heard their vision for the facilities and curriculum for the nature school. Preliminary plans call for construction of a school building on the east side of the property, with much of the west side consisting of existing and restored natural communities.
CPS and their partners are currently raising funds for the design and construction of the school building. In addition to the basic structure with several classrooms and a multipurpose wet lab, the partners hope to add features that will make this facility a ‘living building’. Appropriate designs and materials will enhance energy- and water-efficiency, foster health of students and faculty, and harmonize with the surrounding natural ecosystem. Development of the property will also include restored habitats, hiking trails, pit toilets, and a shelter, to allow students to use parts of the property away from the school building. Construction of the shelter and installation of toilets will allow students to use the property even before final construction of the main building.
The CAS Board of Directors is considering our options for supporting the nature school. We feel that supporting the nature school is a natural extension of our long history of cooperation with the public schools to get students outdoors and to teach them about birds and natural habitats. The board will be learning more about the nature school in the coming weeks, and we hope to bring a proposal for CAS’s involvement to the chapter membership early in 2020.
This month’s sightings were once again compiled entirely from eBird and illustrated with photos embedded via the Macaulay Library. (Feel free to submit interesting observations and photos to me directly by email.)
Anna’s Hummingbird: This November brought an early-season Arctic blast, not weather that one usually associates with hummingbirds. But, sure enough, a hummingbird showed up at Jean Leonatti’s house in Columbia, and she went out of her way to accommodate both the bird and the birders who wanted to see it. Many birders did visit, as the bird turned out to be an immature male Anna’s Hummingbird that had strayed from its usual western range. According to eBird, this is only the second record of an Anna’s Hummingbird in Boone County. For more details, check out the hummingbird discussion on the MOBIRDS listserv (mostly during the 2nd week of November).
Birds eating bush honeysuckle berries: Like humans, birds will eat what is easy, cheap, and available, whether or not the nutritional profile of that food promotes optimal well-being. Cedar Waxwings, Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and other birds will certainly gobble up bush honeysuckle berries. I’ve heard repeatedly that the fruits of invasives aren’t of much value to birds, and I finally decided to hunt down some more details. I found this interesting research paper that assessed the fat and energy content of invasive and native fruits in New York state; the authors found that the several species of invasive fruits (honeysuckle among them) that they tested were consistently and substantially lower in fat and energy than alternative berry-producing native fruits. However, given the choice between low-fat junk food and no food, most will choose the former. Thus, simply removing invasive honeysuckle isn’t enough to help the birds; it is at least as important to provide better food options. If you enjoy watching birds, please consider planting native, fruit-bearing plants in your yard. A few options that provide fall fruit include spicebush, native viburnum species, and native dogwood species.
Birds of prey, with prey: To continue on the topic of what birds are eating, here are a couple of great photos a bit higher on the food chain. Both of these were from Eagle Bluffs.
Fall sparrows: Quiz: Which of these ones is not like the others? The taxonomic answer is below.
Quiz answer: The House Sparrow is the taxonomic oddball here; it belongs to the family of Old World Sparrows (Passeridae), having been introduced to North America (and much of the world). All of the others, including the Dark-eyed Junco, are New World Sparrow of the family Passerellidae.
Please submit sightings! The “Sightings” column contains a sampling of interesting bird and nature observations made since the prior newsletter, with emphasis on the six-county region (Audrain, Boone, Cooper, Howard, Monroe, Randolph) served by the Columbia Audubon Society. If you see an interesting behavior, encounter an unusual species, notice unusually high or low populations of a species, get a great photo or audio recording, or otherwise have something interesting to share, please send an email to me (Joanna Reuter). Reports can (and preferably should) be brief; alternatively, simply send me a link to an eBird list if it contains comments explaining the observation.
Sunday, December 8, 2019 | 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Saturday, December 14, 2019 | 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020 | 2:30–4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020 | 7:00 p.m.
mid-May, exact date to be determined