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Burnet County bird watchers eyeing skies Jan. 4 for Christmas count

BURNET — When a small group of Burnet County bird watchers pick up their binoculars Jan. 4, they will join more than 60,000 people from the Arctic to the Andes in a 113-year-old tradition.

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count includes a 15-mile radius from the Burnet County Courthouse, one of 2,000 counting circles around the globe. The count is the longest citizen science survey in the world.

PHOTO: Elizabeth Knebel of the Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society is the Burnet County organizer for the Christmas Bird County that takes place Jan. 4. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

The Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society will spend most of the day spotting and documenting local birds, organizer Elizabeth Knebel said. As the official compiler of the Burnet County count for the past six years, Knebel has noticed some changes in wildlife patterns.

“We’ve seen trends of more bird species moving up from South Texas, like white wing doves,” she said. “We’ve also seen an increase in the number of robins earlier in the season.”

Those trends are reflected in the national numbers as well, said Delta Willis, the senior communications manager for the National Audubon Society in New York.

“Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report shows many species are moving north on average of a mile a year,” Willis said. The report is based on the past 40 years of Christmas bird count data.

The count has also spotted some good news, including the rebound of the American bald eagle.

As part of a migratory flyway, Burnet County plays an important role in the count, Knebel said. To be a bird watcher on the count, all you need is the ability to spot birds. Experts birders will be on hand to identify the species for the records.

Sign-up for the bird count was in October, but Knebel said anyone interested in participating can email her at ealgk@moment.net.