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Calling all birds, birders

Two in the bush? Mark it down, during Saturday’s avian census.

Bainbridge birders will fly their own warm nests Saturday morning, to take part in the annual Christmas Bird Count, which helps monitor bird populations across the western hemisphere.

Avid bird spotters and novices alike are encouraged to join north or south island teams from the Kitsap Audobon Society to help identify and record bird species from roughly 8 a.m. until dark.

“It’s just a fun time to get out and go birding together,” south island team leader Lee Robinson said.

Robinson, who has led the count with husband Kirk for 18 years, said volunteers should bring warm clothing, binoculars and bird books if they have them and carpool if they can. The counts include a mix of driving and hiking.

Robinson’s south island team will meet at the head of Eagle Harbor and cover a route that includes stops at the ferry landing, Gazzam Lake and Fort Ward State Park.

The north island team leader George Gerdts will be out for an early-morning nocturnal count with owl specialist Jamie Acker before meeting for the regular count at the Day Road park-and-ride.

His north island birders will scour a route that includes Manzanita, Battle Point, the Grand Forest and Meigs Farm.

Both teams meet at 7:45 a.m.

Those who can’t make it out for one of the bird outings can sign up for a yard count and tally birds from the comfort of a kitchen window the same day.

Counts from 55,000 volunteers in more than 2,000 birding zones were recorded last year by Cornell University, which compiles data from Christmas Bird Counts to study broad population trends.

Because of the short time period and fluctuations in weather and volunteers from year to year, the Christmas count isn’t a perfect survey of birds on a local level, Gerdts said.

“It’s anything but an exact science, but it gives you a pretty food idea of what’s out there,” he said.

Over the years Gerdts has seen certain bird populations rise and fall.

Some scoter and grebe populations seem to have declined around the island, as have game birds like quail and pheasant, a loss he attributes to shrinking open space.

Other species including eagles, barred owls and ravens seem to be making a comeback, he said.

Occasionally a rarely-seen bird surprises Christmas counters.

In the late 1980s Gerdst saw a ruffed grouse, a bird he hasn’t seen since; and on a Christmas count with Congressman Jay Inslee he spotted a mountain chickadee, a species that rarely strays west of the Cascades.

Recently a pair of peregrine falcons nesting near the Agate Pass bridge have added a thrill for counters.

“That’s another bird that 20 years ago was very, very rare,” Gerdst said.

Each year the north and south teams share tips and compare counts, and there is a friendly rivalry to see which can spot the most interesting birds.

“Last year we had a northern goshawk,” Robinson said. “That was very exciting. In fact the north island guys were a little jealous.”

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Birds’ eyes

For information on Christmas Bird Counts, contact Lee and Kirk Robinson at 842-0774 or George Gerdts at 842-8138. To sign up for a yard count, call Hans and Dawn Hansen at 360-830-5222.

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