The fourth annual Great Backyard Bird Count is for everyone who likes to watch birds. And it's a great way to share bird-watching with children.
This year's count begins Friday, Feb. 16, and ends Monday night, Feb. 19. You can count as many days as you wish.
On the days you are going to count, choose a site to watch for birds. It can be your yard, your feeder, the trees and shrubs in front of your window. Or you can watch for birds as you take a short walk in your neighborhood or on a nearby trail. Watch the birds for at least 15 minutes - preferably 30 minutes or more.
Count each kind of bird you see. Keep a record of the largest number of individual birds you observe at any one time. At the end of the day, record the highest of those numbers. This avoids counting some birds more than once.
For example, a flock of 20 chickadees may descend on your bird feeder and fly away. Another flock, only 15 this time, may appear minutes later. Record 20 chickadees for that day. If you see three Steller's jays perched on a tree by your house as you walk by, but only one alone when you return, record three Steller's jays.
Or you might observe six ravens sailing in the wind. One may soar away, and in a few minutes, four more may join in. Write down nine ravens.
One more "rule" avoids overcounting: don't add together birds you see at different times.
If you see two pine siskins on Friday and 12 on Saturday, record two for Friday and 12 for Saturday - don't record 14 pine siskins for one day. Or if you're watching through your window and see a bald eagle fly by and 10 minutes later you see another bald eagle, don't add the two -- you could be seeing the same individual bird again. Write down one bald eagle.
Once you have counted the birds, enter them on the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site. All entries will be turned in over the Internet. If you have a computer with Internet access, log on to http://birdsource.cornell.edu. Click on the GBBC icon, which will take you to the bird count home page. There, click on the "Fill Out a Checklist" icon at the top of the page. Click on the checklist for Alaska and, when it pops up, fill in your count. There is no fee or registration.
If you don't have a computer at home, you may enter your count by using the Internet connection at the Juneau public libraries.
Look at the checklist in advance to help anticipate species you're likely to see. After the bird count is over, this site will allow you to view this year's results in graphs and animated maps online.
The Web site is full of other ideas. Click on GBBC and "Let's Learn About Birds" for tips on bird watching and feeding, bird songs and how to use your binoculars.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a good activity for groups. Last year, Amy Skilbred's local Girl Scout troop looked at pictures of the birds they were likely to see, explored the Audubon and BirdSource Web sites and watched a video on how to identify birds before they went out to count.
Several good bird identification references were developed in Juneau. The bird identification video used by the Girl Scouts was produced by Jim and Mary Lou King and their family. There is a copy in all Juneau grade school libraries. If you want a copy for yourself, you can buy one for $10 by calling the Kings at 789-7540.
"A Guide to the Birds of Alaska" and "Alaska's Birds, A Pocket Guide," both by Juneau's Robert H. Armstrong, are available at local bookstores.
For binoculars, 7 x 35's or 8 x 40's gather good light and have a relatively large field of view. If you want higher magnification and are willing to use heavier binoculars with a narrower view field, you can try 10-power models.
What birds are you most likely to see when you count in Juneau this time of year?
The related common raven, northwestern crow and bright blue Steller's jay, of course. And among the little birds, you're likely to see pine siskins, chestnut-backed chickadees and dark-eyed juncos.
On the water, you may see surf scoters with their distinctive orange and yellow beaks, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mallards, common mergansers and harlequin ducks. There may be the pale gray glaucous-winged gulls and the darker gray mew gulls.
And one more thing. Keep the cat inside while you are counting.
Mark Schwan will speak on bird sighting trends in Juneau at the monthly Audubon meeting beginning 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. Contact members of Juneau Audubon Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.