We have a big weekend coming up. Sunday is Valentine’s Day; don’t forget to do something special for that special person in your life. Monday is the Washington’s birthday holiday, or Presidents’ Day, as many of us call it.
Those landmark days mean that this weekend, Friday, February 12 through Monday, the 15th, is also time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
This will be the 24th annual GBBC, when citizen scientists around the country and around the world break out of the house and take a walk around the neighborhood, or to a local park, and see what birds are out there, and then go online to report sightings.
Last year’s Bird Count set records for the event, with some 250,000 lists of birds submitted, from more than 100 countries, identifying nearly 7,000 of the world’s estimated 10,000 bird species.
We’re having an unusually mild and warm winter, or at least it was until last week when I started writing this column. That means there’s a chance we might find some birds that aren’t often around during a more typical winter.
There was a morning, back in January, when I was surprised to hear the sound of a robin calling in my neighborhood. As far as I could tell, it was alone, because no other robins were returning its calls. So, I don’t know whether it was late to the southward migration, or if it decided to stay the winter, or if it was taking an early flight north.
About a week ago, I heard some different birdcalls coming from high in an aspen tree next to our house. It was mostly white with some black markings. I’m afraid this one stumped me, as I couldn’t find it in the field guides on my bookshelf.
At any rate, the GBBC is designed to get a snapshot of where the birds are at this point of late winter, before spring migrations start.
It’s easy to participate in the GBBC. Go for a 15-minute or longer walk in a favorite area, perhaps taking a camera or binoculars. Keep track of the birds you see and, hopefully, identify. Then go online to birdcount.org and submit your list.
It’s a good project for a family, or a Scout group, or a class. Naturally, during this pandemic year, if you go out in a group, wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
The Presidents’ Day holiday, again, is officially Washington’s Birthday, and is observed on the third Monday of February.
George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731 on the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, Great Britain and the British Empire, including the British colonies in North America, adopted the Gregorian calendar, which had the effect of changing Washington’s birthday to February 22, 1732.
George Washington served as Commander in Chief of the fledgling new nation’s army in our revolt against British rule from 1775 to 1783, with rebel forces eventually wearing down the resolve of King George and the British Parliament to continue hostilities.
Washington was among the first leaders to recognize the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and urged a constitutional convention to come up with a strong constitution. He became our first president, and later set the precedent of serving just two terms as president.
Unfortunately, like many of the Founding Fathers, Washington left a mixed legacy as he was a Virginia landowner and counted his wealth in the value of his land and slaves, and there were over 300 slaves at Mt. Vernon at the time of his death, though under the terms of his will, they were all freed by 1801.
Nevertheless, George Washington is the only Founding Father who was regarded as “godlike,” and was referred to as “Father of his country” as early as 1778, long before the end of the revolution and his later service as president. After almost 250 years, he is still considered among our best, if not the best, presidents.
So, this weekend it’s Hail to the Chief, kiss your special Valentine, and check out some birds.