Surveying the skiesDespite frigid temperatures and windy, snowy surroundings, participants in the 110th Christmas Bird Count in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora spotted a rare visitor.
Despite frigid temperatures and windy, snowy surroundings, participants in the 110th Christmas Bird Count in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora spotted a rare visitor.
Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, data collected from the count has helped identify birds most in need of conservation action, including documentation assisting in the comeback of the previously endangered bald eagle, according to the Audubon Web site.
The count relies on volunteers nationwide to collect data vital to tracking bird progress.
Twenty participants from five states, along with several cities in North Dakota, participated in the counts.
Overall, volunteers put in a combined 125 hours for the bird counts, covering 361 miles of roads and trails.
Park Ranger Nathan King, one of the event’s organizers, said a long-eared owl was spotted in the park’s South Unit during the Medora count on Jan. 2, a species the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association lists as rare in spring and summer.
King said the owl does not usually exist in the park during winter months.
“That owl is so well camouflaged it’s hard to see even when you know what you’re looking for,” King said. “They have a very cryptic plumage. It looks just like the end of a broken-off tree limb. Even though it’s a fairly big bird, it blends in very well.”
Active mainly at night, to see the bird during daylight hours is a rarity.
“The people who found it worked really hard all day and I really give them a lot of credit for putting up with some pretty unpleasant weather,” King said.
King said the finders of the rare bird had been out in the field for close to seven hours when they spotted the long-eared owl.
“They were kind of on their way back, but they were still checking on things.”
Participants for the Medora area count traveled from Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as Medora, Dickinson, Halliday and Bismarck, according to a press release.
“We were pleased to have so many volunteers from so many different places count birds this year,” said Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor, who also served as the count’s compiler, in a press release. “Due to conditions, we did not see as many birds as we sometimes do, but it was a great day afield.”
During this year’s Medora bird count, 21 species were recorded along with 339 total birds.
“Our numbers as far as species representation were good,” King said. “I think we saw the species we expected for the most part. There are more of them out there, but because of the weather, we just couldn’t observe them on the count day.”
King said a few years ago, “tons and tons” of Robins could be observed, however this year had visibly less.
King attributed the lower number to less juniper berries, snowfall and extremely cold temperatures.
“One thing we didn’t see this year that we saw last year was the common redpoll,” King said. “Those birds are erratic. “They don’t necessarily show up every year in the same place.”
Overall, there were no major changes from last year to this year, King said.
Observation changes this year could be attributed to limited visibility for part of the count time and accessibility issues due to high snowfall, he said.
While the North Unit experienced deep snow on the Jan. 3 count, which restricted travel to a degree, six birders found nine species of birds, including woodpeckers, grouse and eagles, according to a press release.
Lapland Longspurs were also spotted, a bird King says are uncommon and not observed every year in the park.
Also a rare winter sighting in the Badlands, the American Tree Sparrow was observed this year.
“All of our dedicated and skilled volunteers contributed to the success of the event,” King said. “We greatly appreciated their time and effort.”