Christmas count numbers add to databases to help biologists monitor species trends, such as the alarming decline of evening grosbeaks.  (File Associated Press)
Christmas count numbers add to databases to help biologists monitor species trends, such as the alarming decline of evening grosbeaks. (File Associated Press)

Birdwatchers gear up for Christmas counts

Audubon groups set clinics on spotting wintering birds

Birdwatchers are flocking together in the next few weeks in about 2,000 localities across North America and beyond for the 110th Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Inland Northwest birders, as usual, are joining the action.

New birders are invited to join avid birdwatchers on more than a dozen counts that are being organized within 100 miles of Spokane.

Each volunteer group will count for one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 in a designated circle 15 miles in diameter.

The count began on Christmas 1900 in 25 eastern localities where birding groups publicized the pleasure of identifying, counting and recording all the birds they saw.

Apart from its main attraction as a social and competitive event, the databases generated by online reporting have boosted the Christmas count’s value in generating a “snapshot” and monitoring the long-term status of resident and migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere, National Audubon officers say.

The data reported by volunteers are combined with more scientific survey methods to help ornithologists study myriad issues, such as the magnitude of West Nile virus and climate change.

A record 2,124 groups counted birds last season, including the first count recorded in Antarctica.

The 59,813 volunteers turning out last year tallied 65.6 million birds.

Idahoans have been participating since 1914, when the state’s first Christmas Bird Count was organized in Moscow, said Shirley Sturts of Audubon’s Coeur d’Alene chapter.

New birders are always welcome to join the counts, said Alan McCoy, the local chapter coordinator of groups that will be heading out on Dec. 27 for the Spokane count.

Local count coordinators enter their survey data into Audubon’s Web site, where computer systems almost instantly compile results for comparison to past years.

The Christmas-season event has long been a way for birders to connect, from pre-trip programs to potlucks following the counts.

Of course, many of the participants continue their birdwatching ways year around.

For example, since 2002, Coeur d’Alene Auduboners have challenged themselves to spot as many species each year as possible in Kootenai County. The club’s highest count was 207 species in 2004. The lowest count was 189 in 2008.

With sharp-eyed local birders recording each species as soon as they are spotted each year, the county list helps track species arrival dates across the region, Sturts said.

What does not appear on the lists is equally interesting to birders. For example, Kootenai County is well within the range of the great gray owl, yet the club has not spotted the species in the county since 1996.

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