bulletin board
events calendar
business directory

best friend
news briefs


photoIn early December this year, a Snowy Owl took flight in the Methow Valley. Hopefully the Christmas counters will be able to find it again on December 23 for the official tally.

25 and Counting
Annual bird count

The Methow Valley’s traditional Christmas bird count will complete a quarter century when local birders traipse into the outdoors Sunday, December 23.

Twisp Audubon Christmas Bird Count participants plan to meet at the Hoot Owl Café at 6:30 a.m. Following a day of bird spotting, they will return to a potluck dinner and count tally at 5:30 p.m. at 229 Twisp River Road.

Dick Chavey, who died in 1999, instigated the first local count on December 18, 1988 along with Sue Koptonak, who still resides in Twisp. They were both avid birders, Koptonak said. Chavey wrote to Audubon for the bird count guidelines, and they chose Twisp as the center, since that meant a lot of their good birding spots were part of the territory.

photoSome birds are easy to find: these Hairy Woodpeckers made a home in John Adams and Caryl Campbell’s woodshed.

Chavey and Koptonak were the main engines behind the count for the first few years, and that included one count that started when thermometers were showing 28 degrees below zero. (The temperature did rise to 3 degrees below zero.) “I remember Dick drove that day,” Koptonak said. She had to keep scraping frost off the windows in order to see out at all. “The cold wasn’t so painful back then. Hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” she laughed. The first bird they saw that cold count was a Flicker in Dave Schulz’s orchard, clinging to the sunny side of a branch.

For the first decade a small cadre of dedicated individuals made the count—nine to a dozen people. But since 1998, 25 to 40 people have been participating each year. “I think people moved into the valley who had an interest,” said Kent Woodruff, a Forest Service biologist who started with the project in 1995 and has helped annually since then. “I’ve enjoyed helping us become more fluent in birds,” he said.

“It’s fun to see if you can find new species in the winter,” said Koptonak.

Woodruff said that “All the birds we’ve seen in 25 years” and the bird spotters and the weather conditions and other data are kept on a detailed spread sheet. (Click for a species list from that record). Similar data from across the nation is collected by the Audubon Society and compiled into a national picture of birds seen. This year will be the 113th year of national Christmas-time bird count data collection for Audubon.

Sometimes unusual birds show up. “We’ve had dignitaries in the bird world,” appear at the Christmas count, according to Woodruff. The very first count turned up a Fox Sparrow, not very common. Bird counters have seen American Tree Sparrows and one year Meg Trebon spotted a Virginia Rail.

“In the 28 below to 3 below winter, Dick Chavey’s group counted one Blue Heron,” said Woodruff. “There must not have been much open water.” In fact, he said, the group has seen a Great Blue Heron most years.


photoA Red-breasted Nuthatch rests in winter’s frosty branches.

The local count also displays bird population trends: “Every single year except the first year we have had House Sparrows,” said Woodruff, and the numbers have been rising steadily. A rapidly increasing species recently introduced in North America is showing up in increasing numbers, Woodruff said. He doesn’t like its lengthy name: Eurasian Collared Dove. He calls it a Spruce Dove. “If you see this bird, look around and you’ll see a spruce tree.” It first appeared in the 2006 Twisp count.

The count has found 17 species of waterfowl: 13 kinds of ducks, two kinds of mergansers, and two species of geese.

Seven species of owls have stuck around for the Christmas count, Woodruff said, and he is hoping they that they will make it eight this year by spotting a wild Barn Owl. One has been seen recently, he said and “ we hope to get it during the count . . . Dana (Visalli) keeps a good record of the species and we don’t think” a Barn Owl been officially spotted yet, Woodruff said.

Owls already seen during the Christmas count are Snowy, Great-horned, Screech, Northern Pygmy, Saw-whet and Northern Hawk owls.

“We’ve had several reports of Snowy owls this year,” he said, and he hopes the group will see another during the count.

Anyone interested in more information can phone 997-2549 or 997-3436.


Have a comment? >>