By Christie Pashby Looking to celebrate the New Year naturally? The folks at AWARE have an adventure for you! On Saturday, Jan. 2, AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) is hosting Whistler's Christmas Bird Count. It's an annual event co-ordinated through the National Audubon Society and held at 1,700 locations across North America. Besides being as quiet as you can and testing the depth of your forest vision, you'll be collecting important scientific data that provides a real benchmark about the health of our environment. Volunteers will set out from Whistler in three directions. The valley bottom section will be patrolled on foot, the ski areas will be monitored by people on alpine skis, telemark or snowboard gear and the major side valleys explored by people on cross-country or touring equipment. Groups will cover as much ground as possible and record every individual bird and bird species encountered. Birds are often the first species to be affected by changes in the natural environment. Pollution and habitat loss are devastating to our feathered friends. By keeping track of how the lucky chirpers are soaring, we can see the impact of what we're up to down here. The event has been running since 1900. That year, ornithologist Frank Chapman and 27 of his buddies were disturbed by the holiday "side hunt" tradition, a bird shooting competition. They decided that collecting bird data would be a good way of protesting the event. Once started, it was so much fun they couldn't help themselves from doing it every year. At the end of the day, all will gather for an enthusiastic, suspenseful bird countdown and some tasty, toasty treats. The data collected will be sent to the New York headquarters of the National Audubon Society and published in the New Year. Beginners are warmly invited. They'll be matched up with more experienced birders to learn all the tricks of the birding trade. For more information or to sign up, contact Max Gotz from AWARE at 932-7247.