Christmas Bird Count returns

A blue jay sits on a snowy poplar branch in Vermontville. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — The 63rd annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place in late December this year, and locals with an interest in birding are encouraged to sign up to watch for birds at feeders or walk one of the prescribed areas.

The annual event, which is part of a nationwide citizen science effort, notched its 100th species last year. Local organizer Larry Master said anyone with an interest in birding can sign up to help.

“We always accept new volunteers,” Master said. “You don’t have to be an expert birder, just have an interest in birds. I can put people who are new to birding with more experienced birders. Some birding experience is helpful; being able to identify birds that come to your feeders. People can even just look at their feeders and call me with what they see during the day.”

The bird count is a methodical snapshot of what the local bird population is on a certain day. Although it’s called the Christmas count, local organizers are given leeway to hold it on any day toward the end of the year.

There are really two parts to the bird count: one where groups or individuals prowl certain areas looking for birds, and another where people can count the number and kind of birds that come to backyard feeders.

Master said people are welcome to take part in either, but to contact him beforehand to get the proper protocol. He said people don’t need special equipment or cameras, and that a volunteer’s assignment is largely dependent on what they want to do.

“It depends on what their interests are, and it depends on if they’re willing to walk pretty far or if they know people who are already on the count,” he said. “Some people are just interested in birding in their neighborhood, and that’s fine. I can arrange that usually.

“Others may go out with experienced birders and spend the whole day outside or a half-day outside. It all depends on weather.”

Master said he’s only had to postpone the count twice in the last three decades or so, and each time it was held the day after the scheduled count.

“Twice in the last 35 years I’ve had to postpone due to just awful conditions,” he said. “And I won’t know until a day or two ahead of time if it’s just going to be impossible to go birding.

“A pair of binoculars is pretty much a necessity, but they can go out with someone else who has them. A camera is not necessary at all.”

There have been some surprises in the past, such as last year’s spotting of a Wilson’s snipe just outside of Saranac Lake. Master said it was the first time that species has ever been recorded in the Adirondacks in winter.

With heavy snow and a low tree seed crop this year, Master said it’s anyone’s guess as to what could be spotted.

“There’s a finch invasion from Canada because of a lack of a seed crop anywhere in the Northeast this year,” he said. “So a lot of birds are moving south. Evening grosbeaks have been reported as far south as Maryland and Delaware, and there have been reports all winter of them around the Adirondacks.

“Evening grosbeaks have been largely absent … the last report during the Christmas Bird Count was in 2011. And pine grosbeaks have been showing up, so hopefully they’ll be around for the bird count. And evening grosbeaks have been largely going to bird feeders for black oil sunflower seeds, which is their preferred food.

“Siskins may be hard to find, goldfinches may be hard to find,” he continued. “And you never know what rarities may show up. It’s kind of the fun thing about birding, is you never know when something unusual will pop up.”

Master added that a relative rarity — a solitary snow goose — has been hanging around the Lake Placid village beach on Mirror Lake for the past couple weeks.

The bird count spans the Lake Placid, Ray Brook, Saranac Lake and Bloomingdale areas. Those interested in volunteering should contact Master at prior to Saturday, Dec. 29. And to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count on the national level, go to