Great Backyard Bird Count This Weekend!

Don’t plan on seeing robins in Montana this weekend, though there will likely be some sightings.

Did your parents think that you should be a doctor or lawyer when you grew up? How about a scientist?

I can’t offer much help for a newfound desire to be a doctor or lawyer, other than study, apply for med school or law school and hope for the best, but it’s easy to become a scientist, or at least a volunteer scientist for this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count.

Since 1998, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in cooperation with the Audubon Society, has been recruiting volunteer scientists to go outside, or at least, especially if you have a bird feeder, look out a window, to count birds that you can see and hopefully identify. After your walk or after you get tired of looking out the window, you can log onto the internet and enter your observations, and you will have made a small but important contribution to the study of birds, and what’s happening in the world of birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place every Presidents Day weekend, starting on Friday, the 16th, and going through Monday, the 19th.

The GBBC is conducted in mid-February, as, in the northern hemisphere, it’s late winter, before spring migrations start in earnest. It’s a snapshot in time, capturing information about where birds are at this time of year, and possible correlations between snow cover and what birds are around.

Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use information from the GBBC along with other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, to get the big picture about what is happening to bird populations, and the longer the information is collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate changes in the bird world.

From that tentative start in 1998, the GBBC has grown immensely. In 2017, people from more than 100 countries submitted 180,000 checklists, identifying over 6,200 species of birds.

It’s easy to participate in the GBBC. First, if you haven’t participated previously or not since 2013, log onto the internet and go to to create a free account,. You’ll create a user name and password that you’ll use to report your observations.

Second, go for a walk or look out a window for at least 15 minutes on one of the four days of the weekend.  You can do this on one day or several days, and as often as you like.

Third, go back to the internet website and click “Submit Observations,” and report what you saw.

That’s all there’s to it, and when you’re done you can pat yourself on the back and call yourself a Citizen Scientist.

Changing topics, we can’t ignore that today is Valentine’s Day, the day named in honor of an ancient Roman bishop who secretly married Roman soldiers, against the orders of the emperor. At least that’s one version.

Americans spend about $277 million on Valentine cards each year, second only to Christmas.

This is a big day for chocolate. Over a billion dollars will be spent on buying chocolate for Valentine’s Day, including some 35 million heart-shaped boxes. Also, about 110 million roses, mostly red, will be sold and delivered within the three day Valentine’s Day period.

We’ll also note that today is Ash Wednesday, the day of penitence that begins the liturgical season of Lent. This year is the first since 1945 when Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have coincided.

This creates a conundrum of sorts, in that Valentine’s Day is often an occasion for taking a loved one out for a festive dinner. On the other hand, many observe Ash Wednesday as a day for fasting. According to one Roman Catholic-oriented website, if you’re looking for a bishop to give a dispensation to go ahead and have that big dinner, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Don’t expect advice from me. My supposed journalistic expertise is outdoors, not theology or romance.

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