Thursday, December 24, 2015

Post #47 - Christmas Count, with a twist

This past week/weekend I was in Austin, Texas to present two talks. The first of these was for the local Audubon chapter, Travis Audubon. It was very well attended and seemed as though it went very well. No one threw anything at me while I was on stage, so I guess that was a good sign! The second talk was at The Lost Pines Christmas Bird Count. Wait - what? Speak? At a CBC? CBCs are about counting birds, not talks or lectures, right? Well, the Lost Pines folks have added their own, very interesting twist to the traditional CBC model. The way that it works is this. Saturday is filled with birding workshops and informal birding talks, and Sunday is the actual bird count. The goal of the weekend is to introduce novice birders to both birds and birding on the first day before sending them out with more seasoned observers for the CBC on the second. The format seems has worked well for the previous 5 years and appears that it will continue to do so into the future. 

Bastrop County - Lost Pines Resort is off Route 71,
near Wyldwood (between Austin and Bastrop)

Another interesting aspect of this count is that it is hosted by the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa. This resort and conference center is located roughly 20 miles east of Austin and encompasses 400-some acres  in eastern Bastrop County. The resort graciously absorbs the costs of hosting the festivities; There is no registration fee for the weekend. They also cover the travel costs, speaking fees, and lodging of the presenters. Many of the participants stay at the hotel since its exceedingly convenient to be able to bounce between the rooms, the resort, and the presentations and field trips. The resort has everything a person could possibly need, so there's no need to rent a car for the weekend. Transportation to the count on Sunday is also provided, again free of charge.  I found this very refreshing, and I wanted to publicly applaud the resort for their continued commitment to this annual event. I think the whole idea of combining education and outreach with a CBC is a great idea, one from which I think other counts might benefit. 

View of resort from top of golf course

Riverside woodlands

More mixed woodlands

The count circle is centered just north of the resort and encompasses all of the property as well as all of the adjacent McKinney Roughs Nature Park (1,100 acres, administered by the Lower Colorado River Authority). I volunteered to cover the resort property as I thought it would be cool to be able to hand my hosts a complete list of birds species that I found on their property, wooded golf course included. I scraped out 56 species, Bald Eagle among them. My personal highlight was when I had 3 stunning examples of Zonotrichia sparrows (White-crowned, White-throated, and Harris's) sitting on the same branch. I guess Golden-crowned to complete the "Zono-slam" would have been asking too much! I did on this weekend leave my camera at home. It was very nice to bird without any photographic distractions!

I hope to make it out for some post-Christmas birding and photography, so stayed tuned as the first year of The Speckled Hatchback comes to a (hopefully) exiciting close!

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