Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)

Back in 1966, Chandler Robbins began the North American Breeding Bird Survey.  The results of the BBS are valuable in evaluating the increasing and decreasing range of bird populations which can be a key point to bird conservation.  That first year, there were only 600 official routes mainly starting in Maryland and the surrounding area.  Presently, there are about 3700 active routes throughout the US and Canada.

Each route is exactly 24.5 miles long, and remains the same year after year so population trends can be studied.  The BBS is one of those great citizen scientist projects that birders can get involved in to help insure the continued existence of our avian community.  Cooperators (me) begin the driving route exactly one half hour before sunrise at stop one.  (That’s why I had to get up shortly after 3 a.m. so I could take Emma out, eat breakfast, pack the truck with equipment, and get to the starting point 15 miles away on back roads by exactly 5:01.)

After looking for and listening for all species for precisely three minutes at each stop, you hop back into the truck and drive one half mile down the route and do it all again.  There are fifty stops along each route, and it is expected that you will complete the route in four to five hours before bird song drops off dramatically.  So much for expectations…

It was warm, muggy, and slightly foggy as Rachel and I arrived at the starting point.  Only one person is allowed to identify birds or songs, so Rachel was my official recorder.  I would call out what I was hearing or seeing at each stop, and she would tick the birds off on an official record sheet that is not in any particular order.  It’s not easy to start with.  A couple of readers of this blog have been recorders for me in the past when I did the BBS for 13 years outside of Rochester, MN, so you know of what I speak.


                                                    Egg shell remains of a dug up turtle nest.

We were off to a good start, although moving a bit slower than some routes due to the two track overgrown back roads of the refuge.  Our first major delay came when we were supposed to cross a very narrow bridge over the Otter Tail River.  Upon approach, there were three snapping turtles busy laying eggs in the tracks where there is some open ground.  It’s a popular spot for laying eggs as was evidenced by three other nests that had been gutted by raccoons overnight.  Getting around those turtles and onto the two skinny strips of wood over the river was a real challenge especially when one turtle decided to get up and move under the truck right by the tire!

IMG_3602     One of the pluses of the day was finding this happy Trumpeter Swan family with five signets in tow.

Next up, I was carefully watching the odometer to arrive at exactly the next half mile stop when Rachel hollered bear!  Sure enough, just on my left in a small but deep pond a big male black bear swam across.  He headed for the woods about twenty feet away.  Since our next stop was only ten feet away or so, I told Rachel I was going to shout out my bird sightings to her to be sure the bear knew we were still in the area.  Disappointed smile


We powered through some boggy areas in four wheel drive, and continued on to our next obstacle.  Remember, we had scouted out all of the roads on Saturday, so were really not expecting any problems.


Well, Mother Nature had another surprise in store for us.  We must have really ticked off those beavers that I got pictures of on Saturday, as they decided to put up another dam right on the levy that we had to cross.  In only two days, the result was a flooded road bed close to a foot deep.  No way I was going to try to drive across that.  That meant backtracking, and going the long way around for over ten miles.  That business took us an hour to accomplish on these back roads, which really put us behind.

We managed to finish the whole route, but bird song had surely diminished after the beaver dam fiasco as the temps rose.  I had to remove four stuck on ticks after we finally staggered home.  For the first time in over seven years, I actually took a nap this afternoon.  Getting up at  3:00 took it’s toll.  We had quite an adventure today, but I’m happy it’s done with.


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy