Last week, folks counted feathered friends for ACRES Land Trust’s second annual Bird Blitz. If you stumbled upon people perched in an ACRES preserve, binoculars fervently scanning the landscape, guidebooks in hand, you may have encountered one of the rare birds who pitched in to help us with our annual species count — for science, for engagement, for fun.

In total, 76 volunteer backyard bird watchers and life-long birders joined the blitz, reporting on 21 preserves in the tristate area. Bird Blitzers spotted 91 species of birds, including such standouts and fan favorites as the bald eagle, Eastern kingbird, willow flycatcher, Northern parula, warbling vireo and the pileated woodpecker to name a few. Last minute reports of a swamp sparrow at Art Hammer Wetlands, near Rome City, and a blue-winged warbler on the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve in Huntertown, delighted, to be sure.

This year’s participants helped count 955 individual birds. Together, with the use of ebird, an online bird reporting database managed by Cornell University’s School of Ornithology, Bird Blitz participants helped ACRES begin to establish a baseline understanding of the breeding, or non-migratory, population of birds here. In time, future birders, perhaps including you, will help this data grow, possibly providing trends that future ACRES staff and scientists worldwide can analyze to make discoveries and increase our understanding of the natural world. Citizen science is pretty cool.

All this intentional counting makes one wonder, how many birds did you see last week? How many do you see or hear in a day? I realize now that I overlooked so many birds before I started “meeting” them as individuals. The red-winged blackbird was one of the first birds that I learned to recognize in the cacophony. This loud, kinda showy squawker grabs your attention, hangs out near wet places and, once you learn it, the male is easy to spot. Bird Blitzers saw nearly 80 Red-winged Blackbirds last week.

Who counts birds for ACRES? This year, the Stockbridge Audubon team returned, as did a team from Riverbridge Electric — en force. The South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society participated for the first time. Several individual birders and family teams hit the trails — some returning, some new. A partly new, partly returning team from Manchester Junior-Senior High School, sponsored by the Tippecanoe Audubon Society, worked the woods and wetlands of Wildwood in Kosciusko County.

What possesses these people to go out and count birds with their precious free time? I remember another bird that set me to casual bird-watching: a gray catbird in my backyard. I was certain a neighborhood cat mewed from the lilacs behind my house before sunset each night, crying something awful. I looked and looked. No cat, but eventually, curiosity connected the mewing call to a bird and I just had to get out a hand-me-down bird guide to find out how this was possible. Who knew there was such a thing as a catbird? Amazing! I felt like the whole world was new again. So much variety to begin to notice — and fun names, too!

So, it turns out, people like me, basic backyard bird watchers become beginning birders, then show up to help ACRES with Bird Blitz. Experienced birders do, too. All levels of bird watchers get in on the fun, team names capture the spirit of the event: Angie and Steve’s Excellent Adventure, Grateful Birders, Watson’s Watchers and Shepherd’s Flock — a multi-generational family led by their grandfather Shepherd. Will you and your flock spot the yellow-billed cuckoo at the Edna Spurgeon Woodland Reserve next year?

ACRES offers a hearty thank you to ACRES volunteer Carol Spallone for leading Birding 101 presentations at local libraries. And a big shout-out to area Audubon Society’s and Club for hosting pre-Blitz workshops: Mississenewa Audubon Club, Robert Cooper Audubon Society, South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society, and Tippecanoe Audubon Society. Thank you for sharing your talents, time and joy.

The Indiana Audubon Society provided funding for Bird Blitz research through their Mumford-Keller grant.

Wild Birds Unlimited, Riverview Native Nursery, and Yonder Clothing Co. provided, respectively, a cool logo, a great gift certificate and a sweet bird feeder as a giveaway for the after party. You’re tops with us and your support protects land.

Lettie Haver is Outreach Manager for ACRES Land Trust. She grew up in rural DeKalb County.

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