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Birding In The National Parks: Counting Birds This Christmas Season


Last year's Christmas Bird Count in Yosemite National Park was conducted on an unseasonably warm and beautiful day. NPS photo.

As the National Park Service approaches its centennial, one of birding’s grand traditions is turning 113 years old this winter. Yes, it’s Christmas Bird Count time, and things are a little different this year.

Most importantly, it is now free to participate in the count. The $5 fee previously collected was used to defray costs of printing and distributing the results of the count. Hence the second big change this year: American Birds will be distributed electronically.

Free birding fun and no trees cut down to publish the results? There’s no reason NOT to get out and count birds in your favorite national park this holiday season.

To find a count circle near you, check out the Audubon Christmas Bird Count home page. I haven’t checked each and every one, but I’m betting a vast majority of NPS units are covered. Below are some dates and contact details for CBC’s in popular and birdy parks. Don’t miss a chance to be a part of one of the oldest continuous citizen science projects in the world.

Remember, birders of any skill level are welcome on Christmas Bird Counts. Every count area is assigned at least one expert or skilled local birder. A CBC is a great way for a beginner to learn the ropes. Also, whether you’re a seasoned birder or first-timer, don’t forget to dress warmly and bring water, snacks, binoculars, and field guides.

Yosemite National Park: December 16

Contact: Sarah Stock at 209-379-1435

Forty-two participants took part in last year’s CBC at Yosemite and logged 2,584 birds among 70 species. How would you like to be on the team that gets to bird the John Muir and Mist Trails up to Nevada Fall?

Big Bend National Park: December 28 and 29

Contact: Bryan Hale at [email protected]

Big Bend has two counts. The first, in the Chisos Mountains, will be on December 28th. The following day, birders will meet at the Rio Grande Village for another count. Why not make it a long weekend and do both?

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: January 5, 2013

Want to bird a more remote area of Texas? The assigned areas in the Guadalupe Mountains can require some strenuous hiking, but the birders can be rewarded with rarities for Texas, such as the Steller’s Jay.

Death Valley National Park: December 16

Contact: Linda Manning, [email protected] (760) 786-3252 for reservations, meeting place, and time.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve: December 15

Contact: Nat Drumheller at [email protected]

What are the odds of spying an endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet? This would be the place to do it.

Shenandoah National Park: December 16

Contact: Alan Williams at [email protected]

Chrisrtmas Counts in areas like Shenandoah are critically important to determine the effects of climate change on bird migration. Some birds are lingering longer and longer into the winter as snow cover fails to materialize and food remains available.

Congaree National Park: December 16

Contact: John Grego at [email protected]

The Loblolly Pines in Congaree are some of the tallest Christmas trees east of the Mississippi River. I’m not sure there are any pear trees around, though, which could make spotting a partridge difficult.

Wind Cave National Park: December 16

Contact: Barb Muenchau or Dan Roddy 605-745-4600

Wind Cave has a potluck dinner following the count. Nothing beats a warm bowl of chili after a brisk day of birding in South Dakota.

Sequoia National Park: December 15

Contact: 559-565-4251

Speaking of big Christmas trees! The Sequoia Natural History Association sponsors this count, which can be quite an adventure, depending on the trails and the weather.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: December 14

The park is looking for volunteers to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count on Friday, December 14th. Volunteers will meet at 9:00 a.m. at the park Visitor Center for an orientation of the day's activities and to establish your count area.A map and bird checklist will be provided.

Contact: Todd Stoeberl, Chief of Interpretation at 907-822-7251.


We're signed up to do the Christmas Bird Count in the Dyea section of the Klondike Gold Rush NHP. My eyes aren't the best so my honey will use the binoculars and I'll handle the clipboard, and - most likely - a large thermos of hot chocolate.

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