Here are some details on the mechanics of our bird counts. For an excellent overview, see also Ted Floyd's Ten Tips for a Happy and Successful Christmas Bird Count.
Review your assigned count area(s) carefully using a detailed county road map. You do not need to cover every part of your area - it is impossible to cover most areas completely. The most important thing is that you don't count outside your area. These areas are assigned to keep different parties from counting the same birds.
If you're not familiar with the area, scout the area before the count to look for good areas. It's also a good idea to ask previous counters of that area what their favorite spots are.
Try to recruit someone to help you count. This is not necessary and you may prefer to count alone, but an extra pair of eyes always helps and things go more smoothly if there is an extra person to write down birds as they are observed.
If you can, do some "owling" -- start the count before dawn to listen for night-calling birds, such as owls and nightjars. Record the number of hours and miles you spend owling separately from the hours and miles you spend doing daytime birding. You can also do owling after dusk.
Try to start the regular count at dawn on count day, usually around 6 am in spring and 7 am in winter. End the count when you've finished your area or have run out of energy. Try to spend at least 6 hours counting. You do not have to count continuously -- if you wish, you can go home for lunch, take a nap, and then return to count some more.
Write down every bird you identify by sight or sound as soon as possible after you observe it. The longer you wait, the less reliable your data is. Do not wait till the end of the day to write down numbers.
In addition to the birds, you need to keep track of when you start and stop counting, how many hours you count by foot and by car (or other means of transportation), and how many miles you count by foot and by car. Use your best estimate (it is difficult to be exact) and round numbers off to the nearest half hour or half mile. Do not include any time spent eating lunch, taking a nap, or otherwise not counting. Do not include any time or miles spent travelling to your count area or between birding stops. Examples of party-hours and party-miles:
Birding by car is when you're driving down the road slowly enough so that you can both see and hear birds. If you are driving more than about 15 mph, you are not birding by car. Do not record mileage or time spent travelling between birding spots at speeds greater than 15-20 mph. Birding by car can be dangerous, especially on paved roads. I recommend that you not do any birding by car unless you can't avoid it. Instead, pull off the road periodically (say every half-mile), stop the engine, and get out of the car. You see and hear a lot more when you're standing outside your car. If you were to follow the procedure of the mini-bbs, you would end up with 0 miles and 0 hours by car, even though you drive between stops, and 0 miles and 1 hour by foot.
Don't worry too much about trying to count birds that are too distant to identify. If you see a distant speck that you think might be a hawk, write nothing down. The counter in the next area might get a better look. However, if an Accipiter flashes by you too quickly to ID, record it as "Accipiter sp". If you see a flock of gulls of uniform size flying overhead, count them as Ring-billed Gulls. Occasionally you'll see a much larger gull in the flock, which is usually safe to count as a Herring Gull.
If you see a very rare bird, one listed on the back of the form or not listed, write down as many details as you can while you're watching the bird or as soon as possible thereafter. Do not wait till the end of the day. Along with the details, write down the circumstances of the sighting and why you believe the bird is that rarity and not some more common species. Reports of rare birds without any details will not be accepted. The rarer the bird, the more detailed the report needs to be. Birds on the back of the form need only brief details, but unlisted species need full details.
Count week birds are additional species that you see in your area within three days (before or after) of count day. You can mark these on the form with an asterisk instead of a number.
Come to the countdown after the count to share your experiences with the group and turn in your count form. Unlike many coastal counts, this is not mandatory for Chapel Hill. Location and time are listed on the count form.
If you don't turn in your form at the countdown, mail it to the compiler by the date listed on the form. There is no fee for the Spring Bird Count, but the National Audubon Society requires $5 from each participant on the Christmas Bird Count.
Thanks and enjoy the count!
-- Will Cook, compiler
Revised 1/20/2008 firstname.lastname@example.org
Chapel Hill Bird Club