By Catherine Twing
Walking through the West Rutland marsh on a sunny afternoon, one might hear the recognizable song of a chickadee, or a woodpecker tapping on a tree, or maybe even see a bald eagle circling above.
Each month for 15 years, birders have gathered at the marsh to bird watch and take inventory of species they find while monitoring the area for harmful activity.
Hosted by the Rutland County Audubon Society, this monthly event gathers information for scientific research and also gives participants a chance to learn more about the birds in their local area.
“Birders are very friendly and love to help new members to identify birds,” said Audubon board member Irene Goebel. “I’m a new birder myself so I can testify to that.”
The Rutland County Audubon website has records of how many birds are identified each month. In January, more than 32 kinds of birds were identified at the marsh, with a total of 142 birds seen or heard.
There are also ways individuals can get involved with bird watching on their own time, including the Great Backyard Bird Count, which was started in 1998.
The bird count is an international community-aided study organized through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. The event’s website, birdcount.org, notes that over 160,000 people from 130 countries identify and tally birds they see in their area and report their findings.
“In addition to the citizen science part, which is very important, and the education, which is very important, it is fun,” Goebel said.
“This is something you are doing in your off hours. It should be fun. It should be enjoyable in addition to providing information. You can’t look at chickadees and not come away happy.”
The bird count runs from Feb. 17-20, and participants are only required to watch for a minimum of 15 minutes anywhere they choose, and document their findings on ebird.org or using the E-bird app.
Participants should make a new entry for each location and session, but there is no requirement for how many sessions they complete.
Those using a smartphone can also upload photos of the birds they see to add to the data.
This information gives scientists a snapshot of which birds are living in different regions at a moment in time.
“No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time,” the bird count website says.
Goebel said new birders can use simple field guides or use the Merlin Bird ID App to help identify the birds they see and hear. There are also CDs of bird calls to learn the songs of each bird; a helpful identification tool.
“In the summer when the leaves are out, the first thing you’ll recognize is their songs. If you know the song you can record it as them being in your area,” Goebel said. “It’s fun. I go into my backyard, and before I wasn’t tuned in to the sounds. Now I hear a song and I think ‘Oh, I need to see what bird that is.’”
Beyond the bird count, anyone can enter their tally into E-bird whenever they go birding.
The Rutland County Audubon website offers resources for beginning birders, including a map of birding hot spots.
In the summer months, Rutland County Audubon participates in the Century Count, or “extreme birding” as Goebel calls it — a challenge to identify 100 birds in a day.
The organization also hosts a Christmas bird count, where a group goes out in late December or early January to identify as many birds as possible, and a hawk watch, which is a trip to Mount Philo State Park in Charlotte to see migrating hawks.
Rutland County Audubon hosts a variety of educational and recreational opportunities throughout the year, including programs for children.
“Every spring we do a marsh day where we invite students to the marsh,” Goebel said. Students participate in rotating sessions on birds, water bugs, plants and the marsh itself.
Goebel, a native of New York City, said she feels some people from Vermont take the outdoors for granted because they are constantly surrounded by nature.
That makes these programs for children especially important.
“They’re getting fresh air and sunshine,” she said. “If they know about birds in their habitat then they’ll be interested in taking care of it.”