Friday, May 04, 2012

Counting the Uncountables

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of TOS just finished its 69th consecutive Spring Bird Count of the upper east Tennessee counties. Think about that! Sixty-nine consecutive, volunteer-populated, volunteer-directed, dedicated years of Spring bird counts. That is amazing.

Reese Jameson and I took a shot at counting on a new route from Rocky Mount State Historical Site (north of Johnson City on the Bristol Highway), then along the north shore of Boone Lake across from Winged Deer Park, a short side-step to Pickens Bridge, up to Devault Bridge, along the southside of the Tri-cities Regional airport to the Boone Lake overlook and, finally, the Boone Dam overlook.

We logged 30 miles which seems like a lot for only 42 species. But it was our first try and we got involved in too many other duties that hampered counting.

When we were on the move, as we were most of the time, the hardest part was trying to catch all the standard birds (starlings, pigeons, cardinals, crows, vulture, etc.) and not get ourselves run over on some busy roads on a beautiful Saturday morning. (As well as a visit by a Sullivan County sheriff’s deputy.)

We were lucky, though. We had two cormorant which are hard to find this time of year in these parts. And a lone red-headed woodpecker which are getting more slim ever season, it seems like. We also were fortunate enough to attempt to count the cliff swallows at Pickens Bridge.

Pickens Bridge is concrete, two-lanes, with seven support pylons. There is not much room to spare on the deck. There’s no walk way on either side. The marina is next to the bridge and I’ve always wondered how many times traffic has been stopped by a “wide-load” boat being trailered over the bridge or two extra-wide pick-up trucks clipping mirrors. It’s not my most favorite bridge in the world.

The swallows were very active, of course. We didn't count the birds! They built their nests up against a cornice arch of the pylon. They had 15 -18 feet of space to squeeze sometimes a foot-wide sometimes a little less wide. On each side of each pylon.

We attempted to count what we thought were active nests. (Essentially, dark holes.) The last pylon is the hardest to count. We figured two birds (male and female) per nest and equal nesting on each side. But that count come into the low eight-hundreds. We didn’t know which way to go. If we counted on the first pylon and carried out the arithmetic we got low four-hundreds.

We have our work cut out for us for the fall count and next year's spring count. First, in the research world there is a process for counting the uncountables. We’re going to have learn that one. Second, will be to travel the route beforehand and map out our stopping points. Third, I gotta call the SCSO to be sure we don't get arrested for scoping 'round the airport.


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