CORTLAND - Necks were craned and eyes strained to catch glimpses of elusive birds near Mosquito Lake State Park.
The Great Backyard Bird Count kicked off Friday with area residents catching a breath of fresh air and taking in the feathered sights at the Trumbull County Agriculture and Family Education Center.
"This is a global effort," said Amy Reeher of the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District, who led the tour.
Dawn Hanna, 51, of Warren peers through binoculars to try to spot birds Friday during the Great Backyard Bird Count at the Trumbull Agriculture and Family Education in Cortland.
Tribune Chronicle / Bonnie Hazen
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual, four-day event taking place through Monday. Bird watchers of all ages and experience are encouraged to take part by counting the number of individual birds of each species they see and enter those numbers on the GBBC website. The purpose is to create a real-time snapshot on birds in the area and around the world.
Reeher said it was the center's third year holding the local count, which employs regular citizen science to identify bird trends, such as migration, habitat, food source issues and other concerns.
"I think bird watching is important because it gets people outside and it's something that anybody can do," Reeher said. "You don't need equipment, you don't have to have experience."
Birds spotted during the 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count on Friday in Cortland:
4 black-capped chickadees
1 blue jay
2 tufted titmice
1 (immature) bald eagle
1 Canada goose
2 house sparrows
3 mourning doves
When you go
WHAT: All about SKUNKS!
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. March 8
WHERE: Trumbull County Agriculture and Family Education Center, 520 W. Main St., Cortland
DONATIONS: optional; may include cleaning supplies, paper towels or funds for skunk rescue
There are plenty of free resources available at the center for those who want to get started, such as bird identification posters and field guides, she said.
"This is our largest crowd so far, so hopefully we are growing," Reeher said of this year's turnout.
The first birds spotted were two black-capped chickadees at the center's feeding station, followed quickly by a blue jay. A few participants even caught a glimpse of an immature bald eagle.
"The eagle and the osprey are the top two," Reeher said. "The bald eagle is the most sought after. That's what the birders want to see, for sure."
"That was my big one," said Dawn Hanna, who has been birdwatching for three to four years and also participates in Project Feeder Watch.
"You just watch your feeders in your yard and count the birds that come and record them online," she said. "I live in town, so I see about six or eight different kinds. I see mostly sparrows, but I do have cardinals, dark-eyed junkos, chickadees, tufted titmice and a Cooper's hawk that likes to hang out and see if he can get dinner.
''You do see some that you don't realize are there."
Some birds were identified by their call, while others were recognized by their flight pattern.
A "peter, peter, peter" bird call turned out to be a tufted titmouse.
The recognizable "who cooks for you, who cooks for you, who cooks for us all" of the barred owl has often been heard echoing on the center's grounds.
"You know it's too early to be at work if the barred owls are hooting," Reeher quipped.
Although no owls were spotted Friday afternoon, a mournful coo gave away the mourning dove, which Reeher explained was named for its unique call.
Another bird, a crow, was spotted during the outing.
"I used to think crows were awful, mean birds, but now I feel sorry for them and I kind of like them," said Casey Clutter, 64, of Southington.
Clutter said she changed her mind after attending a viewing of the documentary titled "A Murder of Crows" at the center. Reeher said the center holds movie nights regularly.
A total of 15 birds, including eight species, were identified Friday, which Reeher said is about average for the property around the center.
"It's weird because yesterday this whole place was full of birds," she said, explaining that the drop in temperature had a lot to do with the amount of birds being spotted. Many of them were probably staying in the thickets, she said.
Clutter and Cyndie Hammers, 62, of Southington, have been monitoring the purple martins by Lake Erie for three years.
"We go over in March," Hammers said. "We lower the gourds and count the eggs ... monitor them from birth until they leave for Brazil."
Hammers said she and Clutter work with the Army Corps of Engineers and turn the information in each year to the Purple Martin Society in Erie.
"We're always looking for people to come help monitor the purple martins. It's fun to see the babies and take pictures of them," she said.
Hammers said this year's population was a little different. There are two rows of gourds in which the martins nest, a top level and a bottom one.
"The ones on top had more babies and eggs than the bottom ones," she said.
Reeher said in addition to identifying trends and potential issues, bird watching helps to promote backyard conservation practices.
Many people, for instance, don't realize that when they use pesticides to kill grubs in their yards they may be killing birds, too. Not only are the pesticides killing off the birds' food source, but it also kills birds when they eat poisoned grubs and insects. If you use pesticides or fertilizer before a heavy rain, groundwater pollution also is a risk.
Reeher said the center holds numerous adult and outreach programs that help to inform the community about conservation.
A Women in Farming Workshop will be held 3 p.m. Wednesday at the center for women interested in agricultural production or women already in farming.
For more information on the Trumbull SWCD bird watching or conservation education programs, contact Reeher at 330-637-2056, Ext. 111.