Some of the volunteers for last year’s count included Ann Park, Bob Griffin, Alan Griffin (back), Alice Griffin, Mary Lou Pexton, Patti Gorman, Cyndi Day and Tim Gorman. Participant Rick Danvir was not pictured. Courtesy photo
EVANSTON — Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission — often before dawn. For over 100 years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the holiday season.
This year marks the 32nd year of the Evanston Christmas Bird Count, and the 113th anniversary of the Christmas Bird Count, held throughout the Americas. The CBC began over a century ago when 27 hunter-conservationists, led by ornithologist Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history. On Christmas Day 1900, the small group of conservationists initiated an alternative activity to the “side hunt,” a holiday practice typical of the time period.
This “side hunt” was an activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Instead of this hunt, the group, made up mostly of hunters, would put down their firearms for a day and identify, count and record the birds that they saw. This started the tradition of what now is considered to be the most significant citizen-based conservation effort — and a more than century-old institution.
The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed over the past hundred years.
From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition, and with the knowledge that their efforts provides valuable data for science and bird conservation.
This year, at least 2,250 individual counts are scheduled to take place throughout the Americas and beyond from Dec. 14, 2012, to Jan. 5, 2013. During last year’s count, over 65 million birds were tallied by over 63,000 volunteers, that number of observers representing a record level of participation.
Count event is a 24-hour census
Each count group completes a census of the birds found during one 24-hour period between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 in a designated circle 15 miles in diameter — about 177 square miles. Participants sit, walk, fly airplanes, boat, cross-country ski, snowmobile, ride horses and drive all manner of vehicles to tally birds on count day. Last year, Wyoming had 20 counts — Albany County, Bates Hole, Buffalo, Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Crowheart, Dubois, Evanston, Gillette, Green River, Guerney-Fort Laramie, Jackson Hole, Kane, Lander, Pinedale, Riverton, Sheridan, Story-Bighorn and Sundance. Spotters recorded 115 different species in Wyoming last year. Utah enjoyed 25 counts, with 185 different species documented.
Local count started in 1981
The Evanston CBC, held since 1981, is centered north of Evanston at the Utah-Wyoming border on Highway 89. It would not be considered a success without the cooperation of the private landowners within the count circle allowing the group access to their property to tally the birds. Deseret Land and Livestock and Martin Ranch properties, according to the local count organizer, Tim Gorman, are particularly valuable for wintering hawks, eagles, rosy-finches and sage grouse, as well as waterfowl species.
Last year: 31 species seen
Last year’s local Christmas Bird Count had mixed results. Nine hearty field participants and one person attending a bird feeder spent part or all of a beautiful winter day observing birds. Together, the group logged three miles on foot and 240 miles by truck, ATV or snowmobile. A total of 31 species and 1,669 birds were counted. Found were 445 greater sage-grouse, 258 in one flock alone.
American crows have wintered around the city dump for several years, and 20 were sighted. A flock of Bohemian waxwings was a welcome sight. Eurasian-collared dove numbers continue to rise. Noticeably absent were Canada geese, great-horned owls, snipe, shrikes, Townsend’s solitaire and blackbirds. Raptor numbers were down overall, reflecting what appeared to be a bad year for mice and voles.
Last year’s tally
Nationally, the Evanston count is highly regarded for its bald eagle, golden eagle and sage grouse tabulations. The local CBC holds the all-time record sage grouse count — 698 in 1986. Typically, 40 to 50 additional bird species are sighted during each count. During mild winters, when the Bear River, Woodruff Narrows Reservoir and the Neponset Reservoir are not frozen, as many as 8,000 individual birds have been seen.
The 1,669 birds from 31 species tallied during the 2011/2012 Evanston Christmas Bird Count were: Green-winged teal 7, Mallard 29, Gadwall 4, Common goldeneye 68, Barrow’s goldeneye 2, Northern Harrier 2, Bald eagle 15, Sharp-shinned hawk 1, Ferruginous hawk 1, Rough-legged Hawk 7, Golden Eagle 12, Greater Sage-grouse 445, Eurasian Collared-Dove 149, Rock Pigeon 25, Short-eared owl 1, Belted kingfisher 1, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 2, Horned Lark 64, American pipit 1, Black-billed Magpie 285, American crow 20, Common Raven 9, Black-capped Chickadee 5, Mountain Chickadee 2, Cedar Waxwing 5, European Starling 389, Am. Tree Sparrow 5, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco 2, Snow Bunting 10, House Finch 35, and House Sparrow 70.
Evanston count Saturday,
The Christmas Bird Count serves as an up-to-the-minute bird census. Growing in popularity since its inception, the count serves as an important scientific function, as well. Birds are one of the first groups of animals to be affected by environmental threats like global warming, pollution and habitat destruction. The CBC data provides indispensable information, not only on the long-term health of bird populations, but also the status of the environment that birds share with all living things.
Persons interested in participating in the Evanston count are asked to meet at the Hornet’s Nest gas station, eight miles north of Evanston, on Route 89, at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15. Horses, snowmobiles, cross-country skis and ATVs are welcome. For more information about the count, contact Tim or Patti Gorman at (307) 789-3833 or (307) 679-0656.