Bring out the binocularsPopulations of fluttering feathery friends can change with the seasons and this area can see a few more species during winter months.
By: Lisa Call, The Dickinson Press
Populations of fluttering feathery friends can change with the seasons and this area can see a few more species during winter months. Bird watching, also known as birding, doesn’t require extensive training and Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora is looking for volunteers to participate in the world’s longest-running citizen science event.
In its 110th year, the annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, relies on volunteers nationwide to collect data vital to tracking bird progress.
Data collected from the count has helped identify birds most needing conservation action, including documentation assisting in the comeback of the previously endangered bald eagle, according to the Audubon Web site.
“Everyone who takes part in The Christmas Bird Count plays a critical role in helping us focus attention and conservation where it is most needed,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Dr. Tom Bancroft.
The Medora count is on its 34th year while the North Unit is on its 29th year.
“We are holding our counts later this year, after the holidays, to attract a larger number of birders,” said Valerie Naylor, park superintendent, in a press release. “This is a fun winter event and we hope many people will join us.”
Birders of all levels are welcome.
“The bird count is enjoyable for those new to birding as well as experienced birders,” Naylor said. “Everyone is encouraged to participate. Beginners can learn from experienced birders and those keeping annual bird checklists can get a good start in 2010 with this volunteer event.”
The Medora count will begin at 8 a.m. on Jan. 2 at the park’s South Unit Visitor Center.
The North Unit count will begin at 8 a.m. Mountain Time on Jan. 3 at the park’s North Unit Visitor Center.
Park Ranger Nathan King said people who don’t know anything about birds and birding are welcome to help.
“We have a lot of different jobs and roles that people can play during this event,” King said.
Volunteers will be split into teams and assigned survey areas prior to entering the field.
“People that are very experienced will usually be matched with people who are less experienced so those people have a chance to learn from the people who are more experienced with birds and looking for birds so there is an opportunity to learn,” King said.
The event will cover areas encompassing a 7.5 mile radius around Medora and a 7.5 mile radius stemming from the North Unit Visitor Center.
Teams will then drive and walk the 177-mile areas to observe and record bird sightings, according to the press release.
During the Medora counts, 67 species have been sighted and during the North Unit counts, 60 species have been sighted.
King said he has been interested in birding and has been doing so since childhood, influenced greatly by his grandfather, adding it is always fun to bird with others who are more experienced.
Several species can only be found near Medora and the park during winter months, including the redpoll species.
“There are some winter migrants that usually spend more time farther north in the summer and will migrate down this far in the winter time,” King said. “In the winter time there are birds that migrate south that spend their summers farther north than here so there are some fairly interesting species.
King said last year’s participants were fortunate enough to see a rough legged hawk.
“If you are lucky you might see something like a snowy owl,” King said.
For some, participating in the event has become a family tradition.
“The more people we get in the more fun it is for everybody because honestly we can cover more ground, people can really concentrate on one area rather than having to rush to get to two or three areas,” King said.
All participants will need to bring binoculars and dress warmly.
To combat any chilly temperatures, hot drinks will be provided at the visitors centers.
For interested participants who wish to arrive later in the day, the park recommends calling for guidance.
Birding basics can be found at www.audubon.org.