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Counting Birds in National Parks This Holiday Season


Golden eagles over Bryce Canyon, Great gray owls in Yosemite, and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Great Smoky are among the species that might be spotted during the annual Christmas Bird Count coming to a national park near you. NPS photos, top and middle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo bottom.

'Tis is the season for counting birds as the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count rolls out across the country, and more than a few national parks are welcoming you to count birds.

The annual count, considered to be the "longest-running wildlife census," according to the Audubon Society, officially runs from December 14 to January 5, though some parks stretch that out on either end. A $5 participation fee for those over 18 years of age is requested by National Audubon, to defray the costs of its compilation efforts and reporting of results.

You never know what you might encounter during these outings. Last year a Red-necked Grebe, an arctic sea bird, was spotted on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Red-necked Grebe usually winters off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, according to park officials, who added that this was only the third documented sighting of a Red-necked Grebe in northern Arizona.

Along with helping out with this incredible census, participating in the annual count gives you a pretty great reason for heading to your nearest national park!

Here's a chronological look at some of the national parks involved in the count and when they'll be counting (if you know of others, please add their details in a comment):

December 12

* Wind Cave National Park

The park’s 15th annual Christmas Bird Count will include all of Wind Cave National Park and areas of the Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. Those wishing to participate should meet at the park visitor center at 8 a.m. Dress warmly, bring a lunch, field guides and binoculars, something to share for dinner and a place setting. Participants will return to the park’s VIP Center at 4:15 p.m. to compile results and share in a potluck dinner. For more information, contact Barb Muenchau or Dan Roddy at 745-4600.

December 16

* Bryce Canyon National Park

Contact park biologist Sarah Haas for information on the count and how to participate: 435-834-4753. Officials will use the park's Visitor Center Conference Room D as the meeting place with hot beverages, food and prizes for participants at the end of the day.

* Buffalo National River

Contact Mike Simpson, [email protected]

* Pipe Spring National Monument

The count will begin at 8:00 a.m., meet at the Visitor Center. Please call Pipe Spring for more information, 928-643-7105.

December 17

* Biscayne National Park

The count will run from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Birders will be split into teams to survey the park's mainland, shoreline, and jetty before traveling via boats to various islands in the park. Each team will break for lunch at one of the keys, and later return to the park headquarters to rally & tally. Unfortunately, boat capacity is limited therefore we must limit the number of participants. If you'd like to participate, please contact Vanessa McDonough to reserve your place on a boat. Contact [email protected]

* Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Road access is minimal, so the count likely will be done primarily on foot or via snowshoes. Snowshoes can be be provided. Meet at NPS visitor center at 8 a.m. For more information, call Mile Munts at 208-527-1353

December 18

* Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Contact Steve West at [email protected] or at 575-885-3636 to find out more about the count.

* Gettysburg National Military Park

Contact Mike O'Brien at 717-642-6676 or email [email protected] if you wish to participate in the Gettysburg area count. Organizers welcome help with uncovered areas and/or you can join others who cover a specific area.

* Glacier Bay National Park

Contact Nate Drumheller, [email protected], for information on this year's count.

* Great Sand Dunes National Park

To participate, meet at the park's Visitor Center Conference Room (about ½ mile past the entrance station) by 9:00 a.m. Bring warm clothing, food, water, and binoculars, and bird books if possible. Snowshoes may come in handy, as well. Hot drinks and snacks will be provided beginning at 8:00 am before the count. Pre-registration has already begun. Please contact park ranger Phyllis Pineda Bovin at 719-378-6363, [email protected] for information.

* []Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
This year's Indiana Dunes CBC will meet at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center at 7:00 a.m. Participants will leave from there, though many teams begin on their own. An informal lunch and complimentary chili, coffee, and cocoa will be available during the lunch hour. Interested participants must RSVP by calling the Dunes State Park Nature Center at 219-926-1390 by December 15, 2010

* Rocky Mountain National Park

Sponsored by the Estes Park Bird Club,, field counters should meet at park headquarters at 8 a.m. Field counters should contact Scott Roederer by e-mail at [email protected] or call 586-8812 by December 12 to be placed on a team.

December 19

* Congaree National Park

Contact John Grego. Meet at the park's visitor center at 7:00 a.m.

* Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Contact David Trently for details. There will be an optional morning meeting at 8:00 at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Please come if you have not already been assigned a territory. Teams will meet at Smoky Mountain Brewery & Restaurant in Gatlinburg ( at 2:00 in the afternoon to warm up and compare notes. (earlier if bad weather)

* Yosemite National Park

During the 2009 Yosemite Christmas Bird Count, 47 participants identified 1,771 birds of 59 species. To participate in this year's count, you must register in advance. Contact the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count Organizer, Sarah Stock, by e-mail or by phone at (209) 379-1435.

December 20

* Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The North Unit count will be held on Monday, December 20, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Central Time at the North Unit Visitor Center. Birders will be assigned areas to cover before they go into the field so if participants plan on arriving later in the morning, they should call in advance for directions. Hot dirnks will be provided at the park visitor center.

December 29

* Big Bend National Park (East)

Meet in front of the Rio Grande Village Campground Store at 7:15 a.m. Birds of note seen during recent counts include: American Bittern, Sora, White-throated Swift, Green Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gray Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Sage Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher & Green-tailed Towhee. Participants always appreciated and needed. Please contact Bryan Hale (email preferred) or phone 512-474-5499 (h) 512-912-4412 (w) 512-426-6033 (cell) for further details. Mark Flippo will also be a contact person out there. He is a ranger at the park and his phone is 432-477-1110.

December 30

* Joshua Tree National Park

Bring layers of clothing, it can be cold and windy or it can be warm and calm. Past year's counts have seen everything from 78 degrees to blowing snow blowing. Also bring snacks, good walking shoes, lunch and drinks, or you can pick up lunch in Twentynine Palms if you choose Group 1. Group 2 will have to rough it, no phones, no restaurants, but just beautiful country. Some Group 1 and Group 2 routes require hiking on trails or in rough, rocky terrain.

Group 1: Meet at the Indian Cove Ranger Station at 7:00 a.m. The Ranger Station is located just inside the park boundary on Indian Cove Road. Turn south (uphill) onto Indian Cove Road from Hwy 62. Birders meeting here will cover the north side of the count circle including the Indian Cove area, 49 Palms Oasis, the Oasis of Mara, and the North Entrance area of the park. Group 1 covers low elevation areas of the count so temperatures are fairly mild.

Group 2: Meet at the West Entrance Station of the park at 7:00 a.m. In the community of Joshua Tree, turn south (uphill) from Hwy 62 onto Park Boulevard and continue about 5 miles to the Entrance Station. Areas covered include Hidden Valley, Lost Horse area, Barker Dam, Keys Ranch, Ryan Ranch area, Queen Valley, Jumbo Rocks, and the Geology Tour Road. Group 2 covers higher elevation habitats from 3000-5000 feet so temperatures are 5-10° cooler.

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Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS is conducting its 5th annual Audubon bird count Monday December 20th from 8am-2pm. The park has a large riparian habitat surrounded by upland grasslands and yields a wide range of Montana's native birds, 89 species of the 238 found statewide. More info, contact 406 846-2070 x 226 Julie Croglio.

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