Bird study shows decline
January 6, 2012
A recent study may indicate a significant decline in Belvoir's bird population.
During the annual Christmas Bird Count, volunteers counted about 2,000 less birds than the previous six year average.
The event, which was led by the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resource Office and sponsored by the National Audubon Society, occurred Jan. 1.
About 19 volunteers helped throughout the study, which started at 5 a.m., and ended around 6 p.m.
The participants walked in small groups around a third of the installation spotting approximately 5,379 birds and 69 different species.
The Canada Goose and White Throated Sparrow were among the most frequently counted and volunteers also spotted birds less common to the area such as the Eastern Phoebe and Red-Breasted Nuthatch.
But the totals from the day were not close to the previous six year average of 7,572 total birds and 82 total species.
The installation has conducted the bird counting since 1911 with the constant goal of tracking any increases or decreases within the bird species in the area.
The researching event is also used as a teaching experience as novice counters are paired with experts who showed the beginners differences between the birds and how to record the data.
The National Audubon Society, an environmental organization who specializes in bird conservation, education and research, takes the information Belvoir collects and compares it to other counts in areas surrounding the installation and across the nation.
"We did something good on New Years instead of eating and watching the football game," said Retired Army Lt. Col. Patrick Sedlak, who participated with his daughter Haven. Both were novice counters.
The Sedlaks were grouped with expert Kevin Walter, DPW Natural Resources Specialist.
The three person team trekked through forest areas, climbed hills and outmaneuvered natural debris around the Accotink Bay.
Walter used physical characteristics and chirping sounds to distinguish the difference between birds while the Sedlaks recorded the information.
The birds were spaced out across the area in trees, the bay and Walter even made chirping calls to draw them out of bushes.
The group saw various types of birds, including a Bald Eagle and Northern Cardinals.
"It was nice to just be able to walk around and see the area" said Haven, who was participating, in part, to earn volunteer hours for her Taekwondo class.
Patrick said the event supports wildlife preservation by allowing people to compare past and present populations and identifying any possible reasons behind yearly discrepancies such as the case with the 2012 tally.
According to Walter, there may numerous reasons behind the decline in the number of birds counted this year compared to years past.
One possibility is the unseasonably warm weather that could be discouraging birds from traveling into the region.
The small number of volunteers may have also impacted the total tally and birds may just have chosen to migrate to other areas in the region.
Determining the reason behind the decline will be the task of the National Audubon Society, who will compare Belvoir's findings with trends in other areas and look for any plausible answer to the numbers.
Walter said this has to be completed before assessing the long-term impact on Belvoir.
One certain outcome from the reduced number of birds is that it allowed experts more time to teach novice volunteers about counting, Walter said.
The Sedlaks enjoyed spending their first experience together and with a specialist in Walter who Patrick called "a real pro," in his ability to identify the animal.
Patrick, who once studied birds as a scout counselor, said it was interesting to learn about the differences between the species in Virginia and his home state Pennsylvania.
Haven learned how to navigate through forest areas.
Walter is confident that other novice volunteers had similar experiences.
"Hopefully," Walter said, "it will lead to them being more active with the Natural Resource Office."