AIKEN - Seated around a picnic table at Aiken State Park, a group of 15 or so bird-watchers combed their checklists for cardinals, black-and-white warblers and the ever-elusive Hairy Woodpecker.
The members of the Aiken-Augusta Audubon Society were conducting their yearly Christmas Count on Tuesday, and had already spotted 75 bird varieties in a 15-mile radius around the Couchton area.
Bird counts will also be made in Augusta on Saturday and at Savannah River Site on Monday.
Results of the counts are reported to the National Audubon Society for publishing in its Field Notes magazine.
George Reeves carried a tape-recorded call of a screech owl that attracts birds when it's played.
``Some birds may see (the owl) as an aggressor, they just don't know,'' he said. ``Sometimes you hardly turn it on, and you don't even see any birds, and they'll start coming down out of the trees.''
Birders sometimes have to rely on sound even when they see a bird because some varieties are distinguished only by a few ounces on a scale or barely visible markings.
``Everybody's heard an American Crow - they go `Caw, caw, caw,''' said field trip coordinator Calvin Zippler. ``But if you ask a Fish Crow if he's an American Crow, he'll tell you, `Nuh-aw, Nuh-aw.'
``That's the only way you can tell these two apart in the field.''
Mr. Reeves said he was fairly satisfied with the bird count.
``Seventy-five species, that's about right for Aiken,'' he said. ``You don't have those big bodies of water where you'd find ducks and you don't have shore birds.''
As a roll call of birds was rattled off, the birders gave less than enthusiastic ``Yeahs'' for the common dove and sparrow varieties they had sighted, but a more ardent ``I saw one'' for the harder to spot varieties like the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and Common Nighthawk.
Mr. Zippler said club members primarily are on the lookout for birds, but also observe and look for reptiles, rocks and minerals and various trees and vegetation.
``We're not just a bird club, we're an outdoor club,'' Mr. Zippler said.
The Aiken-Augusta Audubon Society has about 30 active members who go on two birdwatching field trips each month. The club also meets September through May on the second Thursday of each month, usually at the Augusta Public Library.
For meeting times and information, contact club president Carol Eldridge at (803) 471-2821.
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