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The third time's a charm

Christmas bird counters are making history around Ashland this year.

The group is giving the southernmost portion of the Rogue Valley its third consecutive official tally for the first time ever.

Covering a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on Emigrant Lake's north dam, about 36 volunteers will spread out for the National Audubon Society-sponsored count on Thursday, said organizers Harry Fuller and John Bullock.

The count circle is broken up into 10 areas, said Bullock, and ranges from the Billings Ranch at the northern part of town along Bear Creek to Mount Ashland Ski Road, encompassing pieces of the Siskiyous and Cascades, an area included in the national tally just four times — in 1939, 1940, 2010 and 2011.

Last year's count was plagued by rain and windy weather, said Fuller, but forecasts look more promising this year.

The National Weather Service is calling for partly sunny skies and slightly-above-freezing temperatures in Ashland for the 24-hour counting window.

"The worst thing for a Christmas count is the wind," said Fuller, 66. "A lot of birds hunker down and try to preserve their calories."

Last year, the group counted 107 different species of birds for a total of 15,987, said Bullock, 67, who is recognized by the Audubon Society as Ashland's official counter.

Fuller and Bullock, who revived Ashland's Christmas bird count in 2010, are members of the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Audubon Society.

In 2010, the group counted 106 species for a total of 13,302 birds, Bullock said.

The count data is sent to Cornell University, where it is analyzed alongside data from about 2,200 other counts.

Last year, 2,248 counts and 63,223 volunteers in all 50 states and all Canadian provinces — plus 99 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands — tallied more than 60 million birds.

Typically, American robins, dark-eyed juncos and European starlings top Ashland's list, Bullock said.

Last year, the groups tallied 4,756 robins, 2,535 starlings and 1,246 juncos, he said.

In the 1940 count, not a single starling was tallied, Fuller said.

"Unfortunately, we'll see lots of starlings," Fuller said. "When they got turned loose in the U.S., they didn't have any natural predators, and they thrive in almost any type of habitat besides deep forest."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Evasive Species Center, the first European starlings released in the U.S. were in 1890, in New York City.

The man deemed responsible for turning the birds loose, Eugene Schieffelin, reportedly hoped to release every species of bird mentioned in plays by William Shakespeare.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.