Local bird enthusiasts are gearing up to wander through the 600 acre Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve nestled between Riverview Road and the Mohawk River waterfront in Clifton Park for the annual Christmas bird count on December 19th and January 2nd.
The Audubon Christmas bird count is a tradition that can be traced 116 years back according to John Loz, president of the capital region chapter of the Audubon Society. “It is the longest citizen science count of bird species going on in America,” he said. It’s also completely funded by volunteers.
Four Christmas bird counts take place during one 24 hour period between December 14 and January 5th. Loz explained there are four birding circles bordering each other in the capital region; one in Albany, one in Troy, one in Schenectady and one in southern Rensselaer. Each circle is 15 miles in diameter. According to Loz, the Vischer Ferry Preserve is cut right down the middle of two bird count circles. He explained, “The western half of the Vischer Ferry Preserve starting at the Whipple Bridge entrance is included in the Schenectady circle, which is this Saturday December 19th.” The other half of the preserve will hold its count on January 2nd as part of the Troy circle.
Anyone can participate in this winter bird census, as long as they register beforehand. Birders can even participate in their own backyard if they live within one of the three designated areas.
Seasoned bird watchers are typically teamed up with novices at the event, according to Loz. He explained that people gather in designated wooded areas of the region around Christmas time each year to count the number of different species they see and hear. Then, each team comes back and delivers data to the compiler of the Christmas bird count circle. The information gathered from the count is submitted to the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Loz said there is no set time the bird count will begin or end, but explained many birders will begin their day before dawn in hopes of hearing owls.. “As the light comes, owls will be foraging and flying around. Typically very early in the morning or at dusk.”
The Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve was designated by Audubon New York as an Important Bird Area in 1997, according to Loz. He added, “In the coming year our Audubon chapter will be helping to implement a couple new visual enhancements to the preserve to highlight that it is a special place in the Capital Region for diverse bird species and will be increasing our programming there which includes public bird walks.
Loz emphasized the preserve’s importance to both resident and migrating waterfowl as well as osprey, eagles, red-tailed hawks, songbirds and owls.The preserve is also home to ruddy ducks and northern shovelers who use the preserve as an important stopover to rest and refuel during fall and spring migration seasons, according to Loz.
Besides one week in October when the preserve is open to hunters, Loz said the preserve is safe and open for birders to explore year-round.