Bird count cranks up

These two take their sunrise bird-watching seriously. This weekend kicks off a peak time. So get out those binoculars and set the alarm.

I'm a passive bird-watcher. I love birds enough to keep my eyes peeled for them every day, but not enough to wake up at 4 a.m. to be in the woods with binoculars readied.

At least not yet.

My appreciation of birds grew after I moved to the bird-rich Lowcountry more than 23 years ago.

It started simply with the sight of once-endangered pelicans flying in formation around town. It developed further with osprey diving headfirst for fish and black skimmers flying along with beaks skimming the water for small fish, insects and crustaceans. I fell further upon seeing a nest of chickadees in what had to be their first flight after hatching from a bluebird box in my backyard. And finally, I became a lifelong fan upon seeing Technicolor painted buntings at my backyard feeder.

All without even venturing into the wilds that fortunately ring the metro Charleston area.

And while I'm by no means a serious bird-watcher, I know my avian neighbors well and relish their beauty on a daily basis. Whether I'm in my car, on my bike or running, I'm always on the lookout for cool birds (my favorite being the kingfisher), especially in areas where I tend to see them the most. I've seen a bald eagle fly over the Shem Creek bridge and one perched on an old piling near the Ben Sawyer causeway bridge.

The rich bird life here is due to ample bodies of water, large tracts of undeveloped land and the fact that we're along one of the continent's migratory bird superhighways. Yet another reason Charleston is a great place to live.

Some local birders I've interviewed over the past decade say the viewing in winter, which officially arrives Dec. 22, is the best, especially if you want to venture into the wilderness. The bugs are gone, the snakes asleep and the gators slow.

112 years! Really?

The 112th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, the oldest and largest citizen science event in the world, gets under way this weekend.

Among the nearly 2,300 count sites will be dozens in the Carolinas. Several will be held within an hour and a half drive of Charleston.

The bird counts, which have created the most comprehensive data for birds in the United States in the past century, are held within geographic circles and at different times for three weeks. Most start at sunrise and conclude in the early afternoon.

Participants do not have to be experienced bird-watchers to join the effort.

Most counts require participants to pay a nominal fee charged by the National Audubon Society for recordkeeping and administrative tasks related to the counts.

Last year's count included 2,215 surveys that reported a whopping 61,359,451 birds, according to the Audubon website.

Events occurring near Charleston include the "Lowcountry" event on Saturday (the Sea Islands of Lady's, St. Helena, Harbor, Hunting and Fripp), Santee National Wildlife Refuge on Dec. 22 and Charleston on Dec. 31. Find out more about those and more counts in the Carolinas at www.carolinabirdclub.org/christmas.

Get the lowdown on everything about the Christmas Bird Count at http://birds.audubon.org/faq/cbc.

Too early for you?

For those who may want to venture out solo or with a couple of friends, I've found the hot spots of birding in these locations:

For those who don't want to venture as far or as long, the Charleston Metro area offers numerous decent birding sites, including: