How many years have you jotted down the arrival date of the first hummingbird at your feeder? The first call of the varied thrush? The first swans headed south in the fall?
Now, come 2003, suppose you were curious about how this year's dates compared with sightings in years past. How much time and how many calendars and scraps of paper would it take you to compose a picture over time?
There is a better way, and - with daylight, warmth and even birds in somewhat short supply - now is a perfect time to explore it.
Though 9,523 birds were counted on the Dec. 14 Christmas Bird Count in Juneau nearly half, after all, were accounted for by only three less-than-exotic species: mallard, glaucous-winged gull and pine siskin. Even the most serious birder could be forgiven for retreating temporarily indoors to the warmth of, say, the Internet.
Yes, amid all those annoying pop-up sites and blinking ads is a wealth of Web pages for everyone from the casual backyard birder to the zealous life-lister. It seems that even cyberspace recognizes that watching birds is one of America's fastest growing pastimes.
And one of the newest tools, easier than looking for notes on old calendars, is eBird.
You'll still need that damp notebook and write-in-the-rain pen in the field, but once inside eBird gives you a place to list and organize your own observations on the Web. The creators of this site, in support of their own cause, also covet your information to contribute to a permanent, long-term database on North American bird populations and distributions. Your records could provide useful data to scientists, conservation biologists and educators as well as other birders like you.
The online checklist at www.birdsource.org/ebird is a joint project of National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can store your bird records at eBird, then go back and ask the database questions like, "What year did I see that snowy owl in Juneau?" Or "how has the distribution of trumpeter swans changed over the last few years?" Add your yard or the Mendenhall Wetlands to your "Favorites" list to keep track your sightings there.
One of the ways to enter the location of your sightings is by longitude and latitude. For Juneau, that is 58 degrees, 18 minutes latitude, and 134 degrees, 25 minutes longitude.
Like most new sites, this one is a work in progress. All the questions, charts and maps can take some time to navigate, but that's what winter nights are for, and a little learning time now will pay big rewards when you can forget about your library of old calendars and scraps of paper.
At the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Conservation Web site, www.state.ak.us/adfg/wildlife/wildmain.htm, you can brush up on your Alaska birds, and get tips for winter bird feeding now that most bears should be in dens.
The return of winter weather to Southeast is a good time to rehang bird feeders for a few months and bring birds into full view of your favorite window.
Sunflower seeds are the hands-down favorite for local species. Black oil sunflower seeds are preferred for their high meat-to-shell ratio, nutrition and high fat content. Their small size and thin shells make them easier for small birds to handle and crack than the striped sunflower seeds.
To really make yours the feeder of avian choice, put out shelled sunflower seed. This will also eliminate empty and uneaten shells that fall on the ground, attracting bears in just a few short months when they emerge.
Sunflower seeds attract chestnut-backed chickadees, Steller's jays, pine siskins, red-breasted nuthatches, and, needless to say, red squirrels. Standard bird seed, which is mostly millet, attracts juncos, fox and song sparrows, Steller's jays and red squirrels. For a cold-weather treat you can make with children, spread pine cones with peanut butter mixed with corn meal, then roll in bird seed and hang from tree branches with nylon fish line.
To keep bird seed dry, a simple covered feeder can be made by cutting an opening in the side of a large soft drink or bleach bottle, then hanging the bottle from the neck. Just make sure it's completely free of its original contents before filling with bird seed. Feeders should be kept clean to prevent spread of disease. Scrub with mild bleach solution, 1/4 cup bleach to 2 gallons warm water; rinse well.
Juneau Audubon Society is back on line at www.juneau-audubon-society.org. At the Thursday (Jan. 9) meeting at 7:30 p.m. in Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl biologist Jim King will present a slide show on the banding of 18,000 ducks in the early 1960s when the proposed Rampart Dam threatened habitat for millions of waterfowl and the far-reaching effects of their findings.