On December 21, about seventy volunteers will count every bird they see or hear within a fifteen-mile circle of Maple Road and Huron River Drive. Mike Sefton, one of the area leaders, has devoted the third Saturday in December to the CBC for the past fifteen years. Asked why, he talks about the thrill of finding unusual birds and the importance of the CBC's population data to conservationists. While turkeys are increasing, development and reforestation of open fields have reduced the numbers of grassland species such as northern bobwhite and ring-necked pheasant. More mature forests, on the other hand, have probably contributed to the arrival of pileated woodpeckers, first counted here four years ago, and the barred owl, which has been seen at other times but not yet recorded on the CBC.
Another area leader, sixteen-year-old Sarah Toner, will be out at 6:30 a.m. looking for owls before the main count. She started birding eight years ago after hearing a talk by a local naturalist. She is one of six dedicated local young birders who are eagerly sought after by the more mature counters, partly for their better eyesight and hearing. While Washtenaw Audubon may be a little top-heavy in geezers, it encourages young birders by providing rides when their parents aren't participating, treating them as equals, and giving scholarship money for birding camps. Sefton makes it a point to pair experienced birders with newcomers and designs routes to maximize sightings.