This coming weekend will be the Presidents Day holiday weekend, and that means this weekend is also time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
This year will be the 25th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This is one of the major citizen-scientist events of the year, where just about anybody can participate from wherever they are and report their observations and join the millions of people from around the world who participate in the GBBC.
It’s easy to participate. All you need to do to participate is to spend just 15 minutes or more sometime this weekend, from Friday through Monday, February 18 – 21, and make a note of kinds of birds you saw and how many. Then log onto the internet at www.birdcount.org and report your observations.
Participation can be a solo project or a group project, whether family members, scout troop or class. You can do it in your neighborhood or go to a park or anywhere. Birds can be found most anywhere so anywhere you are or where you might go is a good place to check out what the birds are up to. For example, one year, I did a bird count at Discovery ski area. Other years I’ve just walked out the house and around the neighborhood or visited one of our city parks. There’s no wrong way to participate in the GBBC, whether you report observations once, or every day.
It might be helpful to carry binoculars to get a closer look at some birds to make an identification, as well as a note pad to jot notes. If you take a camera along, you’re invited to share photos to the birdcount website.
This bird count effort is a way to capture data about birds and where they are in late winter, before spring migrations begin in earnest. When you enter observations you may be asked to indicate whether we have snow cover.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. While I’m not a birder, I think I’ve promoted the project just about every year since the beginning. In this annual lull between hunting and fishing seasons, it’s a great excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors.
This Monday holiday is officially the Washington’s Birthday (February 22, 1732) holiday, though February also marks the birthdays of Presidents Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773), and Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911).
The holiday was established in 1971 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing three-day weekends for many of the holidays. Interestingly, establishing the third Monday in February for celebrating Washington’s birthday guarantees that the holiday will never land on February 22.
When Washington was born, the British Empire was still following the Julian Calendar, and the date on that calendar was February 11. Great Britain finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1852, which moved his birthday to February 22. The Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar, is pretty accurate, as it establishes a leap year every four years. However, it doesn’t allow for an 11-minute discrepancy, which amounts to a day each 300 years. It isn’t much, but by the time Washington was born, the calendar was out of sync with the sun by 11 days.
Pope Gregory XIII made the new calendar official in 1582. Many Protestant countries, however, resisted the new-fangled Catholic calendar. Greece was the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, beginning in 1923, though only for civil use. Many Orthodox church bodies still use the Julian Calendar, accounting for differences in the days on which Orthodox churches observe Christmas and Easter.
So, there we have more than you ever wanted to know about counting birds and counting days.
Don’t worry, there won’t be a test on any of the trivia in this week’s column. Just enjoy the holiday weekend, go check the neighborhood for birds and go online to enter your observations.
Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.