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Articles by Dotty Holcomb Doherty

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count needs your help

The drakes are displaying, showing off their splendid colors, their best dance moves. Cardinal and Carolina wren pairs cavort; the chickadees are singing. Love is in the air.
    You can learn about the birds, if not the bees, this Valentine weekend in the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13 to 16. Citizen scientists all over the world help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada by counting birds in back yards, fields, woods and waterways. This four-day count produces an annual snapshot of bird population trends. How many snowy owls, pine siskins and redpolls —birds irrupting from far northern climates this year — are in Maryland right now? Let’s find out.
    Anyone can help. You join the count by tallying the total numbers of each bird species you see while watching for 15 minutes or longer on one or more days of the count. To record tallies, go to www.BirdCount.org. There you’ll learn how to set up a free account and enter your checklists. Submit a separate checklist for each new location, each day or the same location at a different time of day.
    Need help?
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary volunteer coordinator Lindsay Hollister can help. “We train on Saturday, February 14 at 2pm,” she says. “Everyone is welcome, the more the merrier.”
    On the Count website, you’ll find an online bird guide, birding apps for your phone, tips for tricky bird IDs, (is that a white-throated sparrow or a song sparrow?) and local events you can join with other birders.
    There’s also a photo contest for your pictures of both birds and watchers.
    Look for the prehistoric-looking pileated woodpecker hammering in the trees, for swarms of robins drinking in puddles, black vultures and turkey vultures (yes, we have two kinds) soaring overhead and bluebirds popping up in fields and even at the beach. In 2014, Great Backyard Bird counters saw close to 4,296 different species. That’s 43 percent of all the bird species in the world.
    Last year, more than 144,000 checklists were submitted worldwide, including almost 4,100 from Maryland, which ranked 11th among U.S. states.
    With your help, we can make the top 10 this year.
    “We especially want to encourage people to share their love of birds and bird watching with someone new this year,” says Dick Cannings of Bird Studies Canada. “Take your sweetheart, a child, a neighbor or a coworker with you while you count birds. Share your passion, and you may fledge a brand new bird watcher.”

The Mamas and the Papas of the bird world

No one said being a mother was easy. Being a mother bird takes this challenge to a whole new level. In February, on the Eastern Shore, a mother eagle sat in her nest covering her eggs even as a snowstorm covered her. Last summer, in my back yard, a mother cardinal laid three batches of eggs. Her first and third hatchlings fledged and survived, her second pair did not: They were eaten in the middle of the night....

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At the tip of Thomas Point in Annapolis on a windy November morning, Linda Davis sees buffleheads, horned grebes and a loon diving in the Bay’s chop.
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Resources abound online and in nature to help you sharpen your birding skills. Here’s a short list, organized by key questions

Who?
    Find tips on birding basics plus how to identify birds by song and plumage at All About Birds: www.allaboutbirds.org.
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Go quietly, look and listen

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Grab your binoculars and start spotting

Cardinals devouring holly berries; nuthatches scooting down sweet gums; tundra swans hooting on the Bay. Get ready to count them all during the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 14 through 17.
    Citizen scientists all over the world count birds for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in conjunction with the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Developed over the four-day period is an annual snapshot of bird population trends.
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My students arrive in a dust storm of change. …    
their tongues in accents
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