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Loon lovers flock to Prospect Park for annual bird count

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Call it “loon hunt, 2011.”

Bird lovers flocked to Prospect Park on Dec. 17 as part of the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count — and were delighted to find some avian reminders that Brooklyn isn’t just a home for over two million humans. It’s also the borough of choice for some rare birds of flight.

The birders assembled didn’t catch a glimpse of their beloved loon — but did spot over 132 other feathered species, including two of the park’s four red-tailed hawks, over 30 Canadian geese — proving that 2010’s goose gassing, thankfully, didn’t take — a small white-breasted nut hatch, and the rarely spotted green heron.

“When I was younger, I thought this was pretty geeky,” explained Claire Nolan, who recently become a birder. “Now it’s an exercise in paying attention for me — if I can spot these birds, maybe I can slow down and pay attention to other details in my own life.”

The Audubon Society’s annual count was created by conservationists in 1900 as a spin-off of a yearly Christmas bird hunt, and was designed as a way to keep track of changing bird populations.

Now it’s an integral assessment of both the size of avian populations and the ways flocks deal with climate change, says Delta Willis, an Audubon Society spokeswoman.

The count continues through Jan. 3, and naturalists are hesitant to release numbers for Prospect Park — which they say is home to many winged species, as well as an important layover for those heading south for the winter.

Ornithologists did say birds counts throughout the city were down from last year, possibly as a response to the warm fall and winter we’ve had. Warmer temperatures cause birds to hang out longer in northern areas before migrating, birders say.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/from_where_isit.

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