A Christmas Bird Count Story - Part 1

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Thanksgiving food may be filling your belly, but it's never too early to think about Christmas Bird Count season arriving. Thus, it is time for me to relive an embarrassing birding experience from my college days. Let's just say, undershirts have never proven more valuable to me... This a festively refreshed post from March 2019!

Look at Zach in the spirit for Christmas Bird Counting!
Look at Zach in the spirit for Christmas Bird Counting!

My First Christmas Bird Count

I was coming into Christmas break in my junior year at Northwest Missouri State University. I had been seeing signs all week to volunteer in the Maryville Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and to contact our ecology advisor to participate. I didn’t know what participating entailed, but I stopped by his office on the last day of finals. He gave me a hearty slap on the back, told me where to meet, and what to bring. I was nervous. He said bird guide and binoculars, but all I had was a bird encyclopedia and a $25 pair of Wal-Mart camouflage binoculars (a birthday present intended for hunting with my father). Clearly, I was out of my league.

We met before sunrise on that December morning, inside a McDonald’s. Stepping off track for a moment, I wonder how many CBC’s meet at McDonald’s… Back to my story. I unwisely ate breakfast at the fast-food joint, as I was a college student who preferred to sleep in and not make breakfast. This decision meant little now but would haunt me hours later. I was assigned to tally the northern area of our circle and departed with my professor’s former student.

The theme for that morning is easily understood. I did not know birds. That is really all there is to say. I couldn't tell one nuthatch from the other at that moment in life.

The Ride of a Lifetime

In the afternoon, the former student had to leave the count, and I was to be the recorder for my professor. This is where the story takes off. I need to clarify this first: I have never been car sick in my entire life. However, this was my first time riding with my professor, who I will call Doc moving forward. Doc took the CBC very seriously. More than anyone I have met since. We were a bolt of lightning between every power line, tree line, and watering hole. That Ford Taurus had never been put through rigors like this. All gas, then all BRAKE.

Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Geese
Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Geese

One sudden stop, in particular, things turned south for my stomach and me. While visiting the local sewage ponds, Doc drove the dikes between the ponds with great haste and slick maneuvers. However, between McDonald’s breakfast and this new style of driving (I have now adopted this style), I was in need of a rest stop. Unfortunately, Doc did not have any stops planned, and we stick to the schedule on CBC’s.

While Doc picked a Greater White-fronted Goose out of a flock of Canada Goose, I used a fence post and performed the “bears in the woods” task. At 90% completion, I realized what no birder should ever hope to. I was without the soft, white rolls of hope (it is a toilet paper joke). I was in an awkward position. Literally. Dare I yell out to Doc about my predicament and forever seal my fate as THAT new birder? No, I adapt! My college education kicked into gear, and I realized I had worn an extra undershirt that day in response to the temperature. I will let you fill in the details from there.

This was a Potty Story

Nothing else to see here folks. Move along. Did you make it? Good. Me too. This was not the end of the story for my first Christmas Bird Count, but this is where I stop writing for today's story. Goodbye for now and always remember the Charmin.

Toilet Paper is an essential bird watching tool.

Why YOU Should Attend a Christmas Bird Count in 2019!

While this story may seem horrifying, it actually sparked the love for birds that led me to create a whole website dedicated to it. Attend a count this year, make new friends, and create your own memories to carry with you into 2020!

To learn more about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, click here! Follow the links to Part 2 and Part 3!