By ABBY SOUZA
It might have been pouring at 7 a.m. Saturday, but that didn't keep the many members of the Central Sierra Chapter of the National Audubon Society from participating in a century-old bird-watching tradition.
As the weather cleared, the counters increased to 54.
"Once you do it, you get hooked," M.L. Chandler said. "You'd have to be hooked to come out in this weather."
Tucking her binoculars under her jacket and her bird book and note pad into her pocket, Chandler trudged around the Phoenix Lake area Saturday with other bird watchers participating the 103rd annual Christmas Bird Count.
This weekend's counters also had a post-event dinner, where numbers were tallied. Counters spotted 21,627 birds, more than last year's 18,794. Counters found 114 different species of birds, fewer than last year's 120, according to John Burner of the Central Sierra Audubon Society.
The event, in which people from all chapters of the National Audubon Society count as many species of fowl as they can see in a day, has a long history.
The society, a bird and wildlife protection group, started the event on Christmas day in 1900. It started as a protest to the traditional Christmas day "side hunts" where hunters would each choose a side of a field and kill as many birds as they could.
"There are pictures of men with birds hanging all over their arms," Dan Webster, leader of the Phoenix Lake group said.
Frank Chapman, an early officer of the then-budding society, suggested that instead of killing the birds, people go out into the fields and count them. According to the society, 27 bird counts were held that day.
This weekend, 20 groups assigned to different areas of Tuolumne County counted the early-winter bird population. Calaveras County birders will get their chance Jan. 4, and they have 14 regions that need to be covered.
After Calaveras' count, there will be a potluck and time to fill out counting paperwork.