Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are encouraging bird and nature fans throughout the state to join tens of thousands of everyday North American bird watchers for the 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday-Monday, Feb. 18-21. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation. Participants count birds and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org [1].

"These types of activities provide the citizen-scientist with an opportunity to help wildlife," PGC biologist Doug Gross said. "Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the information wildlife managers use to decide where to invest limited resources in land conservation, as well as habitat improvement or protection."

Participants are asked to count birds for at least 15 minutes on at least one day of the event and reporting their sightings online at www.birdsource.org/gbbc [2]. Additional online resources include tips to help identify birds, a photo gallery, and special materials for educators.

"This is a great opportunity for beginning bird watchers to hone their skills, and for all participants to enjoy the winter landscape," Gross said. "Last year, the GBBC was a very popular event in Pennsylvania, with 4,878 checklists submitted.

"A total of 132 species were reported by Pennsylvania participants in 2010. More Canada geese (37,870) were reported than any other species, but dark-eyed junco was reported most frequently (3,816 lists) by winter backyard watchers than any other species in the state.

"The finch invasion just did not happen in the winter of 2010, but this winter we hear reports of pine siskins at many locations and an increasing number of common redpolls, especially in the north. The February dates allow us to count some early migrants, as well as some semi-hardy "hangers on" that have lasted the winter in some yards."

Data collected helps the PGC and other wildlife researchers understand the importance of particular locations to birds and bird population trends, information that is critical for effective conservation. These efforts enable everyone to see what would otherwise be impossible: a comprehensive picture of where birds are in late winter and how their numbers and distribution compare with previous years.

In 2010, participants turned in new record of more than 97,200 checklists, creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded. Checklists came in from all 50 states in the U.S. and from all 10 provinces and three territories of Canada. Participants reported 602 species in 11.2 million individual bird observations.

Gross also encouraged those submitting reports to the GBBC website to also contribute bird sightings by registering at Pennsylvania eBird, a birding website managed by the Game Commission. To submit sightings, go to the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us [3]) and click on "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the page, then choose "Birding" and then click on "Pennsylvania eBird."

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This year's 18th Century Artisan's Show is today, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Country Cupboard Restaurant and Best Western Inn, Route 15, Lewisburg. Show hours are: Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, visit the website at www.18thcenturyartisanshow.com [4].

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This year's Sportsmen's Show and Flea Market is today, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Leesport Farmers Market, 312 Gernants Church Road, Leesport. For information, call Ralph Reber at 610-944-9376.

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This year's Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show is today through Sunday, Feb. 13, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg. Show hours are: today, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, Feb. 7-Saturday, Feb. 12, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 13, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information and tickets, visit the website at www.easternsportshow.com [5].

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National Wild Turkey Federation Women In The Outdoors program coordinator Jeff Soudeers is the guest of Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association member Doyle Dietz on "Experience The Outdoors," today from 7:30-8 a.m. on WLSH 1410-AM, and Sunday, from 9:30-10 a.m., on WMGH, 105.5-FM; and on the Web at www.wmgh.com [6] by clicking the "Experience The Outdoors" link.