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Counting Sand Hill Cranes

Posted by Pete | Posted in News | Posted on 14-12-2010


As you regular readers know I have spent a lot of time talking about the bird counters at the bird and wildlife refuge areas around the state. Specifically, about the counters of the birds and them being able to count those little suckers while they are at the sites. You know how they say, we have 14,262 snow geese, 27,341 sand hill cranes, etc, etc…..Well, this weekend I was driving down south of Belen on I-25 and there was a field of some type grain or grass along side the road….That field was filled with sand hill cranes….There ain’t no way I could count them little rascals, well, those big rascals, so I am asking you….How, I say how, do the counters pretend to count them….I can say there were probably more that fifty, could have been 100 or more….If I was a counter, I would count in flocks…One flock over yonder, another flock down there, that’s two flocks and so on….If one of you bird counters would leave me a comment I would greatly appreciate it….How do you get them to still still?   How do you know if you already counted one?…..If flock 1 joins flock 2, how do you know if you counted them in another field….You guys are really smart, that’s all I can say about that, real smart…..or guessimators….or liars…Pete

Comments (8)

Guessimators, perhaps even liars, may be more accurate. Educated people don’t count by ones as we did in the first grade. Educated people count scientically making the best educated guess based on the evidence. For example, if one is counting leucocytes, one counts the number in one square centimeter and then multiply it by 10 to get the number in a square decimeter, thus putting it on a scale that the pathologist can understand (or he thinks he can). It is not necessarily an absolutely accurate number down to an accurate count of every last critter in the population (accuracy = 1 or 100%). Welcome to the world of science. It can’t create miracles. That is the job of God, but it can describe and understand the Miracle of Creation.

Every measurement has an error associated with it, likewise every count. Take, for example the Florida vote count in the 2000 election when the chads were falling out of the sky, and the Florida voter couldn’t follow a straight line across a ballot and punch the right hole. Sometimes the error is greater than the count, which kind of invalidates it. Scientists usually try to keep the error low, like less than 1%. Jounalists and pollsters may go as high as 4% or 5%. Some democrats think it was near 100% in the Florida election, but dems have never claimed to be scientists, and usually they are not. The bottom line is that any measurement is only as good as the box of uncertainty surrounding it.

So, the number of sand hill cranes in New Mexico is not merely a guessimate, but it is an educated guessimate. What does the average sand hill crane care anyway as long as he has sufficient food to eat, water to drink, clean air in which to fly, and he can find another loving sand hill crane with which to procreate when the time comes.

The sand hill crane does not care about being counted, you are right there….Never once have I seen the word estimate, or estimated or presumed…it is always, the count is and then the number of that bird…example one eagle or one falcon or 3 elk or 27,492 sand hill cranes and 3 or 4 park rangers…Oh,well, just gives me something to write about, huh?….

Let me emphasize! Every measurement or count has an error associated with it. If there is a 1% error in the sand hill crane count, then the total count of sand hill cranes is 27,492 plus or minus 274.9 cranes. That is a lot of cranes. Small errors can represent a lot of cranes if the population is sufficiently large.

Well, one person has stated it is done by aerial photos and they get a static count that way. Makes sense, but now I will not have anything to write about…I could see the person with the field glasses and clip board and pencil..one, two, three, four, they fly off, he starts over,, and on and on, but no, now I have to visualize a dad-gum air plane or satellite taking pictures…all the fun is gone…no more writing on bird counting….However, I may let you guys know what the counts are, just for fun….

The bottom line is that every count and every measurement has an error associated with it, whether it is done from the air or every bird is caught, tagged, and counted. That error may be truly scientific and be less than 1%, or it may be political and be 10% or more. Any measurement is only as valid as its error. You always will have something to write about. Science is changing, but it is no better now than it was 2000 years ago. It merely generates more data, not necessarily more knowledge. In fact, Jesus Christ, living in human form 2000 years ago, was the best scientist who ever lived, and he worked with the best data. We are only very slowly and laborously catching up. In another two million years, we may even become “Christlike”. The lesson to a non-Christion is “Don’t plan to do it alone, as a true atheist would”. Life is too short. Human ability is too inadequate. Take the short cut, and follow Christ. That is the only way.

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900 ornithologist Frank Chapman an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society proposed a new holiday tradition-a Christmas Bird Census -that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them..So began the Christmas Bird Count. Senators and urge them to pass an oil spill bill dedicating BPs Clean Water Act penalties to environmental restoration of the Gulf Coast this year.

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