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Bird club will hold annual count Saturday

The Margaret Watson Bird Club will hold its Christmas Bird Count on Saturday.

The annual event follows the storied history of the club, based in Farmville.

During the weeks of late December and early January each year, tens of thousands of people all over North America rise early to count winter birds in circular areas strictly proscribed by their bird clubs, an organization spokesperson said in a press release. “They participate in a ritual that began at the turn of the 20th Century, when concern for conservation stimulated ornithologist Frank Chapman to propose and initiate an annual Christmas tradition, the ‘Christmas Bird Count,’ designed to take the place of the annual slaughter of non-game birds typical of that day.”

Anyone interested in participating in this year’s count should contact Club President Amanda Dymacek at Amanda.Dymacek@gmail.com.

“There are still a few spots left on the teams, and anyone with the desire to learn more about the birds living in Prince Edward County will certainly be welcome to the event,” event organizers said.

Over the years, more and more bird clubs began participating, until, today, birders faithfully record the birds sighted in over 2,300 count circles, according to the release. “And one such circle is in Prince Edward County at Darlington Heights.”

“On a cold, wintry day, Jan. 1, 1968, six friends belonging to the Spring Creek Bird Club gathered together at Darlington Heights to enjoy a day of birding following the Christmas Bird Count protocol established by the Audubon Society,” officials said in the release. “Carefully mapping out a 6-mile diameter circle with its center at the Darlington Heights Post Office, the intrepid group braved freezing weather, snow-covered terrain and frozen lakes to record birds all day, finally coming in at 4:30 p.m. to thaw out and enjoy the excitement of the event. Little did they know that they had begun a tradition that would last well into the 21st Century.”

Thus was born the Darlington Heights Christmas Count, when Bill Dickenson, Louise Dillon, Edith Driskill, Hall Driskill, Margaret Watson and Vera Copple recorded 4,216 individual birds belonging to 40 different species, officials said.

“The Spring Creek Bird club was renamed the Margaret Hunter Watson Bird Club on Sep. 30, 1974, in memory of its beloved founder who had died earlier that year. While the members continued to meet faithfully and to conduct the annual Christmas counts, their interest gradually waned until the club disbanded in the early 1980s. For each of their 14 counts, the members maintained the exact same center for the count circle, although the area was expanded in 1971 from a circle 6 miles in diameter to one 15 miles in diameter. These early counts established a solid record of winter bird life in Darlington Heights.”

The Margaret H. Watson Bird Club was re-established in 1991 and continues today as a vibrant organization, leaders said. “It has incorporated many of the activities enjoyed by its parent club, most notably, the Christmas Count. There have been 25 consecutive counts held every winter since its reorganization, with a count completed a year ago on Jan. 3, marking the 39th Christmas Bird Count held in precisely the same location, with the center of the count circle where the old Darlington Heights Post Office used to be, just across the road from the house where Margaret Watson and her boys lived in the old days.”

The 23 participants in last year’s count were divided into four teams, each scouring a quadrant of the official circle. Much to their delight, their efforts set two all-time records, the most species seen in one day (75) and the most individual birds recorded in one day (9,791), club leaders said in the release.

There were only 40 species recorded on that first count in 1968. Over the years, additional species have been added to the initial list so that the grand total of all species seen in various years has grown to 114. A new species — the Brown-headed Nuthatch — was sighted in last year’s count. It’s a species never before recorded at this event.

“It is of interest to note that there are only 21 bird species that have been found each and every year: American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow,” club leaders said in the release.

To learn more about the Margaret Watson Bird club, visit the club’s website at www.farmvillebirders.net.