Varied thrush flock to Vashon’s damp, shady woods in the winter. They are commonly observed in high numbers during the annual Vashon Audubon Christmas Bird Count (Jim Diers Photo).

Varied thrush flock to Vashon’s damp, shady woods in the winter. They are commonly observed in high numbers during the annual Vashon Audubon Christmas Bird Count (Jim Diers Photo).

Christmas bird count a growing tradition

More than 75,000 participate in 2,500 count circles spread across the western hemisphere.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the nation’s largest and longest-running community science project. Participating in it connects you to both its rich history and important scientific data.

The bird count evolved from holiday “side hunts” that were popular before the turn of the 20th century. Hunters would spread out across the fields and compete to see who could amass the largest pile of dead birds and animals.

The Christmas count began when Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and an officer in the fledgling Audubon Society, proposed that participants spend the day counting birds instead of killing them. Twenty-seven observers took part in the first count in 1900 in 25 locations. Currently, more than 75,000 participate in 2,500 count circles spread across the western hemisphere.

The Vashon-Maury Island count covers a 15-mile diameter circle that includes part of the Kitsap Peninsula along Colvos Passage, most of Blake Island and all of Vashon and Maury. Teams spread out across the birding hot spots and record between 115 and 120 bird species each year.

Different teams seek out different species during the counting period. Early morning, owling parties head into the woods around 3 a.m. to listen for owls until dawn. Throughout the day, field teams headed by experienced leaders comb fields, forests and shorelines searching for species.

Many of the island’s winter species are seabirds that must be observed from shore through powerful spotting scopes. Although this kind of counting requires a sharp eye and lots of experience, less seasoned birders can join these counting parties to help record the various offshore species.

Less intrepid birders can participate closer to home by dedicating part of their day to counting birds in their yards and feeders.

Regardless of how they participate, everyone is invited to the Land Trust building at the end of the day to share their results and witness the final compilation.

The Christmas Bird Count can be held any time during a window of several weeks surrounding the new year. This year’s count — the 120th CBC — will be held on Sunday, Jan. 5. To prepare, Vashon Audubon is offering a program for both experienced counters and the bird count curios given by Ezra Parker, who organizes and compiles the Vashon count, at the Land Trust Building on Nov. 14.

Parker will briefly cover the history and scientific importance of the worldwide CBC. He will talk about how Vashon’s count started, and review some of the rare species observed in past years including yellow-billed loon, white-breasted nuthatch, and red-shouldered hawk. He will also take a look at some of the population trends that can be observed from the CBC data collected over the years.

Parker also hopes to recruit more feeder watchers this year by offering identification tips on the most commonly seen winter backyard birds and tips for getting an accurate count. He hopes his program will encourage first-time participants to contribute to Vashon CBC.

Christmas bird count a growing tradition

Saturday, Nov. 9

Kitsap Salmon Tour

Vashon Nature Center Salmonwatchers will be going to the Rhododendron Preserve in Bremerton to tour the salmon streams. Meet on the 10:30 a.m. ferry. Contact Kelly Keenan to see if space is available on the tour:

10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 9

Vashon Audubon Birding Field Trip

Come bird watching on the island. Free and no experience necessary. Drop-in, bring binoculars and scopes if you have them, and wear walking shoes or boots. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Carpools encouraged and can be arranged at Ober Park.

9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Meet at Ober Park Park & Ride.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 12 and 13

Forage Fish Surveys

Join VNC scientists on the beach to survey for forage fish eggs and process samples at VCA. Must be able to walk up to 1/2 mile on the beach. For more info or to sign up please contact

Thursday, Nov. 14

Audubon Talk: Vashon Bird Count 2020

Join Master Birder and Christmas Bird Count Coordinator Ezra Parker to learn more about our local Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Learn CBC history, bird identification tips, and how to participate in the 2020 survey in your own yard.

7 p.m. at the Land Trust Building

Thursday, Nov. 21

Land Trust Book Group

Book selection is “An American River: From Paradise to Superfund, Afloat on New Jersey’s Passaic” by Vashon Island resident Mary Bruno.

6:30 p.m. at the Land Trust Building

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