BENNINGTON -- Get out some warm clothes and dust off your binoculars, it's time for the Audubon Society's 114th annual Christmas Bird Count.
The world-wide event is being observed in Bennington on Saturday, Dec. 28. Kevin Hemeon is the Bennington circle's coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hemeon said he has been involved in the Bird Count for the past 25 years. The count began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the Audubon Society, decided the common tradition of shooting birds around Christmas was due for an update. According to the Society, the initial bird census began with 27 people but has since grown to thousands participating worldwide.
Hemeon said that locally about 12 people, mostly avid bird-watchers, get in on the action, but more are welcome to join as not everyone can do it forever.
The way it works is simple, Hemeon said. Those who want to help contact him and join a group that gets sent to an area within 15 miles of the Bennington Monument. They spend most of the day simply counting birds, first identifying the species then tallying the numbers, which they turn over to him. He in turn sends the data to the Audubon Society.
He said people who know a bit about birds are preferred but if a person wants to learn they can contact him early and will be put with experienced birders. "We can always use more, is the way I look at it," he said.
Most of the counting is done from cars. Birders drive past good bird habitat, which can include people's bird feeders. Hemeon said some volunteers simply scope out their backyards rather than drive around, but at least one local volunteer hikes into the hills around Woodford to get a count for the bird species that do not frequent the lower elevations.
In a given year, the Bennington group will identify about 50 species of birds, said Hemeon. This year birders hope to spot the snowy owl, which is being sighted in rare numbers this year because there's a lemming shortage in Canada, the owl's normal habitat.
Hemeon said Bennington is strange when it comes to the snowy owl. In past years when the bird has been sighted in Vermont, it seems to spend some time in the Champlain Valley then skips southern Vermont entirely in favor of the coast.
The annual Bird Count is not scientific, but given it's been done for over 100 years, trends are noticeable. Hemeon said in the mid-1990s one would not expect to see a red bellied woodpecker, however the Bird Count numbers now have it as one of the most common in Vermont.
Bald eagle sightings are also on the rise, Hemeon said. The iconic bird was once a rare sight, but it was not long ago that a bird watching group Hemeon belongs to logged 17 sightings between two locations in New York, one in Salem, the other in Petersburgh.
"It's nice to see them coming back like that," he said.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.