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A holiday tradition
This year's count will be held on Sunday and anyone interested in reporting an unusual bird or getting involved this year can contact Corey Ellingson at 701 400 5891.
For the Bismarck Mandan area, the center of the count circle is the state Capitol with the territory portioned up much like pie pieces around it. Individuals are assigned to specific areas so technically there is no overlap of birds counted.
As mandated by the Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count is conducted one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Each count circle is a specifically defined territory with a Buy Men Canada Goose Expedition Brown Australia 15 mile diameter.
Since every bird seen or heard is documented, we now have an excellent long term collection of data going back 65 years. Due to warmer winters, better optics, and Polar fleece (my opinion), the number of species found each year has continued to increase. In fact, the top five highest species totals have all occurred within the last 10 years.
The Christmas Bird Count has become a friendly rivalry between neighboring cities to see who can tally the greatest number of species in their respective count circle. Last year the Bismarck Mandan group saw 60 species, which is pretty good for the end of December, but not quite as good as Fargo who beat us with 67.
So if you happen to see a carload of folks dressed in warm Polar fleece and staring at your yard Sunday, don't worry. They are not bandits, or even crazy people.
There are a few birds that have been seen annually over the last 65 years, such as ring necked pheasants, downy woodpeckers, and black capped chickadees. The black billed magpie also has been seen every year but we almost missed it for several years because their numbers crashed, most likely due to West Nile virus.
As the old song goes, "It's the best time of the year" again. For many, the Christmas season means wrapping presents, hanging stockings, baking cookies, and all the other wonderful trappings that come with the holidays.
For birders, it also means the chance to partake in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, as much an annual tradition for me as a visit by Old St. Nick. It's a time for getting together with like minded friends in the birding community to partake in a pasttime that has been going on for well over a century.
They are birders doing their best to help support science while also enjoying some good cheer and friendly competition. Give them a wave and wish them well. (This actually happened to me one year, I noticed someone watching me with his binoculars from his house. He waved.) And don't forget to fill your feeders. The birds will appreciate it.
This basically meant shooting anything with feathers (or fur) in order to accumulate the largest number of carcasses. Frank Chapman, one of the first officers of the newly fledged Audubon Society, realized that birds were disappearing at an alarming rate so he proposed a new plan to go out and count birds instead of killing them.
Magpies are in the corvid family and just like crows, they were hit hard by the virus.
There is some interesting history surrounding the origins of the Christmas Bird Count. In earlier times, it was a tradition for men to go out on Christmas Day to perform what was called, a "side hunt."
In 1900, 27 people from locations across the country took part in the first Audubon Christmas Bird Count and tallied 90 species that first day. Last year, more than 71,000 people ventured forth to count birds at 2,369 count circles across the United States and Canada. It has become the super bowl of birding, so to speak.
The Bismarck Mandan Christmas Bird count has come a long way. The first count occurred here as early as 1918; only seven species were counted that first time. The count was held irregularly until 1948 when the current Bismarck Mandan Bird Club started them on an annual basis.
As for overall numbers of birds, our group counted 31,044 birds in 2012; roughly 25,000 of those were Canada geese, the most ever seen on our bird count. A Ross' goose also was seen for the first time ever last year, bringing the total number of species ever recorded to 106.