LYB Participates in Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count
In December, LyondellBasell’s Matagorda Complex teamed up with the National Audubon Society to undertake a very important day-long mission. On Dec. 14, the site opened up its 2,200-acre property to bird enthusiasts, including some employees and LyondellBasell retirees. This group of birdwatchers was responsible for tallying the number and different species of birds in the area as part of the Audubon Society’s 121st annual Christmas Bird Count.
Since 1900, an annual census of birds in the Western Hemisphere has been taken in early winter. It is conducted by volunteer birdwatchers in various areas or “count circles” throughout North and Central America to provide population data for use in science and conservation biology and is the longest-running citizen survey in the world.
The Matagorda County Mad Island Marsh Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the most successful in the country every year and is typically the reigning champion when it comes to number of different bird species counted. In fact, this count circle reported the greatest number of bird species ever counted by any U.S. location in 2005 with a record-breaking 250 species and has been at the top of the count for decades.
LyondellBasell’s Matagorda Complex and its surrounding property lie completely within the designated 15-mile diameter count circle, and the site has opened its land up to birders since 1996 to see what interesting and unique birds call the site home or have stopped by on their way south.
According to LyondellBasell Senior Vice President Dale Friedrichs, who has participated in most of the Matagorda counts, there are three elements of success for any CBC. You must
have biodiversity in the count circle to attract an abundance of different species of birds; you must have access to the land within the count circle to maximize the number of birds counted; and you need to have enough quality birders who are willing to get out in the field and do the work.
“The Matagorda County Mad Island Marsh count is so successful because it has all three elements,” said Friedrichs. “We’ve been number one in the U.S for at least 15 out of the last 20 years, and the best bird of the count has been identified on LyondellBasell property several years.”
Michael Kennedy worked for LyondellBasell for 24 years at the Matagorda plant before retiring in 2014. He, along with Friedrichs, has been participating in the count almost every year since 1996. He said the LyondellBasell Matagorda property hasn’t changed for the past 40 years which makes it an appealing habitat for birds to come back to year after year during their migrations. The whole area is also the last stop on the migratory flyway before birds travel over the Gulf of Mexico to reach their wintering grounds in the Yucatan and Central America.
“Seventy-five percent of North American birds migrate through this area. There is a huge volume of birds that stage here to prepare for their flight across the Gulf,” Kennedy said. “The reason we do these bird counts is it’s the best source of repetitive data from the same area at the same time of year. It’s a very good indicator of the health of the environment as a whole.”
Jimmy Greenawalt, a technical specialist at MTO, has been capturing birds on film for the CBC for the past seven years. This year he brought his granddaughter, Hanna, to participate in her first CBC. Hanna has been birding for about three years now and Jimmy’s goal is to get all of his grandchildren into the hobby.
“This is a wonderful way to spend time with your grandchildren. Hanna loves birding and often gets up at dawn to check their backyard bird feeders. She reads books on birds and gets excited when she sees a new bird,” said Greenawalt. “It’s a great family activity.”
For 2020, Audubon reported a total of 948 completed counts and 17,380,066 birds counted. The count, like almost everything in 2020, was greatly impacted by the pandemic. The overall number of counts that took place were down significantly from previous years as was the total number of birds counted. This is likely due to fewer birders participating because of the pandemic. This year, Matagorda County’s CBC total was 224 species – not as much as in years past, but still enough to top other counts within the U.S.
All the data collected during the count will be turned over to the Audubon Society to understand any changes in migration trends, ranges and population and use that data to advocate for change if warranted.
“The data collected during these bird surveys is critical for scientists who evaluate bird populations and migration patterns,” Friedrichs explained. “It’s important that, as a company, we support conservation and the environment and our participation in the CBC aligns with that mission.”