The Phoenix



The Bernville Christmas Bird Count is the most recent among the three official Audubon count circles centered in Berks County, getting its start in the 1985 count year.

The Bernville count owes its beginning to a close encounter with an owl.

Terrence Schiefer was a student at Penn State when he got hooked on Christmas Bird Counts and went on his first one.

Schiefer, now the curator of the Mississipp­i Entomologi­cal Museum at Mississipp­i State University, related the origins of the count in a recent email:

“I got my start at Christmas Bird Counts when the late Bob Cook invited me to go with him on the Elverson CBC,” he wrote. “This was the first time I was ever owling, and Bob knew just where to stop to find each screech-owl. During the day we birded on some private property of a friend of Bob’s where there was a stand of pines that contained a long-eared owl roost. We spread out to search for the owls, and one of the owls that the others flushed flew up into another tree and in turn flushed out a saw-whet owl that flew right by me. Bob liked to say that I positioned myself just right so that the saw-whet would fly by me.

“After that count I was hooked on CBCs. When at college at Penn State, I participat­ed in the State College CBC for quite a few years. At that time I was interested in everything about the bird life of Pennsylvan­ia. I remember visiting the university library and going through all of the CBC reports in American Birds (and its predecesso­rs Field Notes and Bird Lore) and photocopyi­ng all of the CBC results for all of the counts in Pennsylvan­ia (There was no internet then!). I then combed through all of the counts, seeing what species were reported on what counts and how frequently. “So I guess my starting the Bernville CBC was an extension of my interest in Pennsylvan­ia CBCs in general. I think it had long been in the back of my mind that the area around my old stomping grounds around Blue Marsh Lake would make an excellent area for a CBC with Blue Marsh Lake itself providing water birds that would increase the diversity of species on the count. “Of course you can’t do a count without participan­ts, so I fielded the idea to some of my friends in the Baird Ornitholog­ical Club to see if they would be interested in participat­ing in what would for them be an additional CBC. I got a favorable response, and so I drew up a count circle, being careful not to overlap the Reading and Hamburg counts, and submitted it to the National Audubon Society.

“At that time I didn’t know what the future held for me, but as it turned out I soon got a job curating the insect collection at Mississipp­i State University. I believe I only compiled the Bernville count for a couple of years before turning it over to Mike Slater. For a number of years after that, I participat­ed in the count, joining my father to help him cover his territory. I now compile the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge CBC here in Mississipp­i (It is nice to have an NWR only 20minutes from town).” Slater compiled the count for several years before some out-of-state commitment­s required him to be out of the area during the count week, so he enlisted Ed Barrell to compile the count, which he has done for 30 years.

Slater has now come full circle and will take over the compiler duties from Barrell this year.

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