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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Join Audubon Society members to tally the bird species you see. © David Larson
Join Audubon Society members and tally up the bird species you see. © David Larson

December 2004

Wisconsin Traveler
Stand up and be counted

The CBC is a ritual of the season as venerable as Santa himself.

Come early winter, more than 50,000 people across North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands will spend a full 24-hour day walking around a big circle with their eyes raised to the skies. Is this: a) a re-enactment of an ancient Druid ritual; b) the latest exercise craze, or; c) The National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count?

Did we mention these folks carry a clipboard in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other?

The oldest and largest wildlife survey in the world, the 105th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) runs from December 14, 2004 to January 5, 2005 – and you are welcome to join in the action. The count monitors the status and distribution of bird populations across the Western Hemisphere. Combined with the North American Breeding Bird Survey and other census data, the CBC offers a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

Here's how it works: CBC participants are organized into field parties by the local "complier." Each field party covers a specific area of a 15-mile diameter circle on a specific route, and counts every individual bird and bird species they see or hear over one calendar day (from midnight to midnight). At the end of the day representatives from each counting group meet to compile the master list.

Birding novices are encouraged to participate; inexperienced observers are always sent out with seasoned CBC veterans. Birds at feeders within each circle are also counted; if you live within a CBC circle, you can sit in the comfort of your kitchen and count while the coffee perks. Just contact your local complier so you can report your results on the count day.

Curiously, the bird count aimed at conservation has its origins in taking aim for consumption. Prior to 1900, many people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the "Christmas Side Hunt." They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. On Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a new tradition – a "Christmas Bird Census" to count birds rather than hunt them over the holidays.

With more than 1,500 circles to be counted, there's always room for another pair of eyes. If you love birds, relish the excitement of friendly competition, and want to make a contribution to science and bird conservation, visit Wisconsin Society for Ornithology for circle locations and contact information for the count compliers.

Lucky the Carp, lowered into the Mighty Mississippi in 2004. Dave Collins, Midwest News
Lucky the Carp, lowered into the Mighty Mississippi
in 2004. © Dave Collins, Midwest News

Want to do something different to ring in 2005? Leave the cheap champagne at home and head over to Prairie du Chien for the state's wackiest New Year's countdown, better known to the locals as The Droppin' of the Carp. At the entrance to St. Feriole Island the devotees dance around a bonfire to the scaly tunes of Larry and the Carpettes, consume hot chocolate and popcorn, take the Carp Plunge, and as midnight approaches, witness the ceremonial lowering of the Cyprinus carpio into the waters of the Mississippi. Festivities to propitiate the angling gods begin at 9 p.m. on December 31. See Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce or call (608) 326-8602.

Whoever said honesty is the best policy missed the turn off Highway 11 into Burlington. The Racine County city – home of the real whopper – harbors the world-renowned Burlington Liars' Club. This stalwart gang of incorrigible fibbers stages an annual competition for the year's Championship Lie. In an election year there were certainly plenty of good candidates, but the BLC is looking for original work. Fabricate a falsehood, slip it in an envelope with a dollar (a real dollar, please; no counterfeits!) and mail it before December 31 to the BLC, 179 Beth Court, Burlington WI 53105. The winning liar receives fawning media attention and the dubious honor of having a nose longer than Pinocchio's.