Christmas Bird Count, the world's longest-running citizen science wildlife census, is 114 years old.
“Are you a bird watcher?” asked Paul Linegar when I called him at home to volunteer my family for this year’s Christmas Bird Count.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew “I can’t tell a crow from an eagle” would not get me the job. But I couldn’t lie.
“I am not a birder, but I love birds.” I figured this would be a more appropriate response.
It’s true. I spent this past summer running up the Cuckold’s Cove Trail to see if Lucky, the eaglet, had finally ventured out of the nest. Last February at Bowring Park, I was thrilled to meet the red-footed goose even though I could’ve sworn he was a duck. And as soon as I heard about the wayward snowy owls, I headed straight to Cape Spear.
“Any owl sightings today?” I asked the first guy I saw after pulling in.
“There’s one right there,” he said pointing to a rock on the north side of the parking lot.
Well now, this birding thing is easier than I thought.
The owl was an exquisite creature, its thick white feathers barred with brown and its head pivoting this way and that like a weathervane. We were only there a minute or two when the white ball of feathers took flight, its massive wings reaching down to almost touch tips under its body.
The white plume landed on a rock in the bog to the south of the parking lot where the barracks used to be in the Second World War.
He sat stock still on a small bluff, keeping his big round eyes trained on the long lenses pointed his way. He didn’t seem scared, just curious.
It was at this point I noticed a half dozen other groups scattered throughout the bog, no doubt viewing this guy’s feathery buddies. Now I can’t wait to go to Cape Race to see the Harry Potter invasion.
All this to say: if I know what bird I’m looking for, I should be able to identify it.
Plus I’ll take descriptive notes and photos so if I can’t identify something in the field, I can always bring home a picture and cheat notes and go from there.
This seemed good enough for Paul Linegar and he signed me up for the stretch of trail between Torbay Point at the end of Doran’s Lane in Outer Cove to Red Cliff in Logy Bay. I am excited to finally be a part of the world's longest-running citizen science wildlife census.
The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900, when an American named Frank Chapman asked people all across North America to count birds and submit the results to him.
Chapman’s census has grown to include thousands of counts throughout the States, Canada and further south.
The results of these counts are compiled and allow researchers to get a better handle on how many feathered creatures are where during one specific period.
Here in Newfoundland, the Christmas count takes place on Boxing Day, regardless of weather. Fourteen designated areas from Wabush-Labrador City to Ferryland each cover a 24-kilometre circle administered by a local birder.
Paul Linegar, my bird boss, will collect data from volunteers who walk in his circle which stretches from Torbay in the north to Paradise in the west and the Goulds in the south.
If you are interested in helping out and can tell a puffin from a partridge, and don’t mind walking outside in severe weather, consult the following site which shows leaders’ names and co-ordinates: www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/index.jsp?targetpg=compilers&lang=EN&prov=NL
If you’d like to set up a new count in your community, contact count co-ordinator Dick Cannings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re in the mood for a stroll, or snowshoe, in the woods on Boxing Day, consider the Red Cliff area where seven Flanagans might need help distinguishing a grouse from a ptarmigan.
Just kidding. I, the informed birder, now know they are one and the same.
Susan Flanagan would like everyone to say a special prayer this Christmas for
Pat Gehue, whose family wants him to come home. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
A child’s Christmas feedback
Ruth Wakeham writes: “Your family’s experience was in so many ways similar to ours. I, too, wanted knee boots so badly, probably in the same year that your sister did. We also still have photos of all the children of the family in cracker hats. There was nothing quite as good as new pyjamas. Your column took me right back. I could almost feel the cosiness of the flannelette as I was reading. I must ask Dad if he still has that white-handled electric knife. Thanks again. You made my Christmas.”
Andrew Tucker writes: “Your article in the Telegram, “A child’s Christmas,” brings back a lot of memories. We have the same Christmas picture in front of the couch, Christmas tree in the background. There were 10 of us — nine boys, one girl. Back in 1966, looking at them, you wonder who the goofball was, who the serious one was, how they would all turn out. We were fortunate enough to do the same picture 16 years later on the same couch, believe it or not. Nobody was ever allowed in the living room except at Christmas time.
“When friends look at and compare our two pictures, the 1966 one and the 1982 one, they often joke: same kids, same couch, same wallpaper, is that the same tree?
“Great fun. There are a lot of stories in pictures like that. Thank you for sharing it.”
Lynn Courish writes: “I hope I have stopped crying enough to send you a heartfelt thank you; my sister pointed out this article to me today as she actually recognized Gerry (just from the photo). What an amazing story you have done here, but hey, it is not a story is it? It was life and still is. I loved every minute of it. It was very well written but I have to be honest, for me, the memories just came flooding back at me. … Thank you so much. It feels like a Christmas gift to me.”
Heather LeShana writes: “Just read your article about Christmas. You could have been writing about my childhood. Thanks so much for the memories. Wishing you and yours a holiday filled with love, hope and new memories.”
Shirley Birmingham called to say that for her, the magic of Christmas was seeing the lit tree for the first time Christmas morning. She also still has a ginger container from A. Lilly and Company.
See COLUMN, page B2
Linda Ryan writes: “I dearly loved your story about your family’s Christmases on ‘Turn. It brought back so many wonderful memories of my own. I, too, had an aunt who had moved to the States. Before their little family left Argentia, my military uncle gifted to my dad a handsome, hand-painted and rather significant, wooden Santa complete with sleigh and reindeer. Oh, how we treasured it.
“Whenever my dad would judiciously set it up in our front yard, Christmas had officially arrived in our neighbourhood. Soon after, winking lights and wreaths of all kinds would appear on the surrounding houses in a harmonious nod to the season. And, we would all wait with great anticipation for a soft sifting of snow to entirely set the scene. I can still see Santa and his reindeer in my mind's eye. It was the first of its kind around our small town. Some people would slow their cars to admire it and some would even stop and take pictures of their own children standing alongside Santa and waving.
“My sister and I, and certainly my parents, too, would always look forward to the boxes to arrive each year from Virginia. The boxes would always contain something that could not be found around here. Often, my aunt would send jumpers that she had expertly sewn for my sister and me. And, we would wear them proudly with sweet white long-sleeved blouses to all the Christmas and New Year festivities. I remember one year, my aunt sent us the most beautiful cherry red corduroy jumpers. We immediately put them on and literally wore them out. When I had finally outgrown mine, I wore my sister’s. I never wanted to give it up. Eventually, my mother, who was a pretty good sewer herself,
re-created the jumpers into miniskirts for my friend Judy and I — we wore them with our short white patent leather go-go boots in a Christmas concert singing and dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Oh, my!
“I still have the only Barbie (American Girl, brunette in a striped swimsuit) I ever owned, given to me by my cousin — the year was 1965. Barbie had made the international trip along with her best friend, Midge. Who knew that some decades later, I would marry a man named Midge.
“The packages inside the ‘Christmas Box from Away’ were always beautifully individually wrapped which, for me, was the most magical thing about it all. I remember one year, customs had torn open the presents (leaving their inspection slips) and hadn’t bothered to rewrap even one. I was devastated that someone would do that and not have the decency to at least tape up the torn papers. Imagine! At 7 or 8 years old, it was an atrocity.
“We didn’t have a lot back then. But what we had, we surely appreciated. And, we surely appreciated our American relatives thinking of us at Christmastime.
“My dad is gone now (he loved Christmas and I inherited that love for the season from him), as are his sister and my American uncle. But to this day, my cousin, sister and I still carry on the tradition across the miles. It helps us all to keep the spirit of Christmas present and the beautiful memories of Christmases past alive. …
Thank you, Susan, for reviving those in your column today.”