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Rare bird, hawks, eagles spotted during Columbia bird count

Saturday, February 15, 2014 | 5:32 p.m. CST
The Columbia Audubon Society watches birds in President Bill Mees' backyard Saturday morning for the inaugural Neighborhood Feeder Crawl, a bird-watcher's equivalent to a pub crawl. The group braved the cold about 8 a.m. in search of rare birds.

COLUMBIA — Far off in the distance, Susan Schabilion spotted an eagle. She peered out over her winter jacket into her binoculars and watched it fly over the trees and out of view.

"We'll count it," she said, turning to her husband, Kevin Wehner of the Columbia Audubon Society, who added it to a growing data set.

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Wehner, Shabilion and a group of 12 other bird-watchers braved the low temperatures Saturday morning for the inaugural Neighborhood Feeder Crawl, a bird-watcher's equivalent to a pub crawl.

Group organizers and participants departed Songbird Station, a Columbia bird supply store, shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday to visit five homes that had bird feeders and viewing areas, in addition to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Hot chocolate and coffee were aplenty as the bird-watchers took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count Weekend.

Each stop on the crawl lasted 15 minutes, allowing participants to count and take pictures of the birds while Wehner kept a running tally of species.

The attendance for the crawl set a good precedent for the event, which was organized by the Columbia Audubon Society, Schabilion said.

"We had the dirty dozen for the first year," she said. "What a great turnout."

The Great Backyard Bird Count Weekend is an international project where bird-watchers submit "citizen scientist" data of the birds they see. Last year, bird-watchers from 111 countries contributed what they saw, according to the count report.  

"People can watch from their backyards and submit their counts online," said Bill Mees, the president of the Columbia Audubon Association.

The bird-watchers counted more than 20 local species, including the rare Hermit Thrush. The plump, mottled-brown bird perched on Lotti Buschman's porch and dipped its beak in and out of a heated pond.

"There it is," she said. "I was hoping he would come out while we were here."

The "Hermit," named for its inclination to make its few appearances alone, was a "life bird," for many of the birders on the outing.

Avid bird-watchers call their first sighting of a species a life bird. Some birders travel around the world adding every bird to their lists, a feat that takes some a lifetime, Wehner said.

As the morning wore on, the temperatures didn't budge far from a frigid 20 degrees.

Although the feeder crawl was free of beer-induced frivolity, Wehner said he wouldn't mind a hot toddy.

But the temperatures didn't hinder the spirit of the birding community nor the tenacity of the inaugural crawl.

The International Backyard Bird Count Weekend continues through Monday. And after the Columbia Audubon Society will finalize its weekend count numbers to submit to the global count, Wehner said. Anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count Weekend from home by submitting their numbers online.

But the expedition wasn't just about tallying numbers. Many of the bird-watchers just relish the thrill of seeing the species.

"There he goes," Pat Urban said as she watched a stoic, red-shouldered hawk fade into the grey sky. "What a gorgeous thing."

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.


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