Originally created 12/21/96

Aiken bird watchers join national event



AIKEN - For some area amateur ornithologists, a partridge in a pear tree will be just one more mark on a clipboard.

On Tuesday, volunteers will fan out to count all the birds they can in a 177-square-mile circle near Aiken. A circle in Augusta will be the target Dec. 28 and at Savannah River Site on Dec. 30.

The results will become part of the longest running bird population and migration database, sponsored on two continents by the National Audubon Society.

This will be the 97th year people have gathered near Christmas to count birds, said Calvin Zippler, the Aiken-Augusta Audubon Society field trip director.{Calvin Zippler said.}

"It's just the excitement of looking at birds and helping to collect data that will be used for information and research," Mr. Zippler said.

The Aiken circle is centered on Couchton, stretching from Hitchcock Woods to Aiken State Park and from Interstate 20 to New Ellenton.

Teams of volunteers, with amateurs paired to more experienced watchers, will be assigned areas to walk or drive through, counting both bird species and individual birds.

"The more people we get, the better," Mr. Zippler said.

In all 50 states, Canada, parts of South and Central America and on Caribbean and Pacific Islands, a total of 450,000 volunteers will take part in 1,700 individual counts.

Counters are asked to contribute $5 to pay for the program, but their names will be listed in the Audubon Society's American Birds{JUMP} report when the results are published.

Mr. Zippler, who has participated in the counts for more than 20 years, said he's seen various populations of bird species ebb and flow in the area, so just knowing the results of the local count isn't significant.

The absence of some species is easy to explain, he said.

"This year, black bird numbers will be down (in the Augusta count) because of the cannons they're shooting off at Augusta National," Mr. Zippler said, referring to propane cannons the golf club used recently to scare away birds roosting in trees bordering the course. "That's one example of how something can change real fast without meaning anything."

The bird count began as a protest against the turn-of-the-century Christmas tradition of dividing into teams and competing to see which team could shoot the most birds in a day, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

To participate in the Aiken count, call Mr. Zippler at (803) 642-2264.{CQ} For the Augusta count, call Ann Waters at (706) 793-2788{CQ} and for the SRS count, call Carol Eldridge at (803) 725-8198{CQ} by Monday.