If you're quiet and walk lightly on Sun City Hilton Head's Nature Trail, chances are good that you'll hear a sweet bird lullaby.
Olvis Spencer, a Sun City Bird Club member who is overseeing this year's Sun City-Okatie participation in the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, said that a person often hears a bird before it's seen. On a recent morning, Spencer stopped on the trail several times to follow the calls.
But a pair of good binoculars is indispensable for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count, to be held Dec. 14. Spencer said volunteers set out at about 8 a.m. and complete their survey in about two and a half hours. Bird counters will be looking for species of birds -- from the Anhinga to the Wren -- as well as numbers of birds.
Spencer said not every species is seen on every yearly outing. The Sun City-Okatie circle began counting for the Audubon Society in 2000. In 2001, the count data shows that 15,306 birds and 135 species were recorded. In 2007, 16,294 birds and 128 species were counted. Last year the number of birds counted fell to 10,639 while the number of species counted increased to 136.
On average about 110 volunteers participate in the count, Spencer said.
"We go out in rain and on cold days when the wind is really blowing," he said.
The Audubon Society count takes place from Canada to South America. The Sun City-Okatie Christmas Bird Count will take place in 10 locations within a 15-mile circle. Cardinals, chickadees, titmouse, red-bellied woodpeckers, and owls are often seen on the count. While the count can be fun for birders, it also has a serious purpose said David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society.
"The Christmas Bird Count has become a powerful force for the birds," Yarnold said in the November-December 2012 Audubon Society newsletter. Yarnold said it provides the foundation for conservation policy in the United States, including land management decisions and wildlife policy.
Data from the Audubon's Christmas Bird Count has been used in the Endangered Species Act listings and aided in the recovery of the bald eagle and in winning protection for waterfowl such as the American black duck.
Christmas Bird Count data also is used in the analyses of federal "State of the Birds" reports, which was pioneered by the Audubon society. This data is applicable to humans as well as birds: Christmas Bird Count data is used in documenting climate change and in predicting future effects of climate change on the North American bird populations. In 2013, Audubon will publish a report on potential future bird ranges that illustrates the effects of climate change.
After a morning of counting birds, Sun City birders will gather at Pinckney Hall for coffee, doughnuts and a recap of their adventures, Spencer said.
"It's a lot of fun; that's why we do it. And for me, it's a passion," he said.
To help educate birders of all levels, Carlos Chacon of the Coastal Discovery Museum will hold an informational program on the birds likely to be seen during the Christmas Bird Count. The event will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at Pinckney Hall in Sun City. The informational program and the bird count are free.