Bird-lovers count local populations

Watchers flock to C&O Canal park in Brunswick, Point of Rocks

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006

Local birdwatchers last weekend joined the D.C. National Audubon’s eighth annual bird survey at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park — and they may have spotted a bird rarely found in Maryland.

Results online

The results of a recent D.C National Audubon Society bird count at the C&O Canal Park last weekend will be posted on the park’s Web site — Results from the previous eight years of bird surveys are also available online.

Bird count coordinator Kristen Berry said volunteers entering in the count, which included parks in Point of Rocks and Brunswick, said they may have identified a Townsend’s Warbler, a yellow-patterned medium-sized bird.

Though not an endangered species, the bird is uncommon in Maryland, especially in the winter, according to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Much about the behavior and population of the bird is still unknown.

Berry said he is waiting for the tally sheets from each volunteer to arrive this week before he will know whether the sighting is official and will be included in the midwinter bird count results this year.

The midwinter bird watching survey was conducted to obtain a detailed picture of winter bird life within the park and to gather information for environmental and park officials.

The C&O Canal park, which participated in the survey, plans to use the results to identify vulnerable and strong bird populations for future projects, said Marie Sauter, a natural resources management specialist for the park. Sauter said the National Park Service would likely include the bird population information in an upcoming vegetation map for the public.

‘‘The park intends to really use the data,” Sauter said. ‘‘It’s learning more about wildlife. ...We’ll be looking for trends.”

The all-day bird count covered the entire 184-mile towpath, from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland. Each volunteer covered a three-mile stretch of path to record the number and species of birds they saw.

Berry said more than 70 volunteers included about 10 Frederick County residents who participated ‘‘in one of the best weather days in count history.”

‘‘We look forward to coordinating it again next year on or around the same date — the third Saturday in January,” Berry said.

Sauter said she joined volunteers for a 12-mile isolated stretch of the park to help counting birds.

‘‘What really struck me is that in different stretches of the park, there were different kinds of birds,” Sauter said. ‘‘Meadow birds like meadows. Ducks like the water. They’re really affected by habitats.”

All volunteers were ‘‘passionate” and ‘‘experienced” birdwatchers, according to Sauter.

Some Frederick County volunteers, including Kathy Calvert of Adamstown, who attended a funeral for a fellow avid bird watcher on Saturday, received an exception to count their tracts of the path on Sunday.

The C&O Canal Park winter bird count is one of the largest held by the Audubon and is a multi-regional and multi-organizational effort, according to a press release from the D.C. Audubon Society.

That information gives important indicators of health of the present environment and helps to determine the long-term management of the park and surrounding areas.