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Big Year: Bird-watching program set for library

Bird lovers will want to mark their calendars for an upcoming program at Farmington Public Library.

East Ozarks Audubon Society will present “A Big Year in Cape Girardeau County!” on Tuesday at the Farmington Public Library with a social at 6:30 p.m. and the program by ornithologist Dr. Bill Eddleman starting at 7 p.m. The program is about bird watching and bird counting and is free and open to the public.

Eddleman is an ornithologist whose fascination with birds never quits. He spent his working career researching and teaching about birds, then soon after he retired he decided to test his own birding skills by doing a “Big Year” in the county where he lives. By the end of 2021, he counted a record 210 species of birds for Cape Girardeau County, including nine that had not previously been reported for the county. His adventure has spurred him into doing a repeat effort in 2023, and already he’s ahead of where he was tracking by the same time on his first Big Year.

The rules for Big Year birding are simple: keep a list of how many birds are identified within a given area, exotic species excluded. Beyond binoculars and a notepad, Eddleman says there is another vital piece of equipment for making record Big Year counts: eBird.

This free software has revolutionized the way birders worldwide report and share their observations. A joint project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon, eBird is a free online program that allows birders to track their sightings, and all birders can watch and search the incoming data in real time. Eddleman will be discussing how anyone can use eBird to boost their birding skills and contribute to bird science.

Big Year counts can be highly competitive. The total for Missouri bird species is 417. In 1991, Tim Barksdale achieved a Big Year with 314 traveling around the state, a record that remained until 2018 when Brad Jacob counted 323. Others soon broke that feat, but last year Barksdale resumed the lead with 338 species of birds seen in Missouri over the course of one year.

“Certainly a county count involves far less traveling than one done statewide (or nationally or around the world), but it does bring unique challenges and rewards: the counter is obligated to become very familiar with all the favorite resting and flyover spots and the property owners who welcome —or resent— human visitors,” said Audubon member Susan Hagan. “Most importantly, it pushes the birder to closely search for elusive species that may have previously been missed. Bill Eddleman’s Cape Girardeau County count is less a challenge to take up competitive birding than it is an encouragement for birders of all skill levels to take a more intensive look at their local birding opportunities.”

The northern flicker is one of 417 bird species in Missouri.

The northern flicker is one of 417 bird species in Missouri.

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