Great Backyard Bird Count begins Friday

Living the Wild Life

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Photos by Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

My favorite bird count starts next weekend — the 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins on Friday, Feb. 15 and goes through Monday, Feb. 18. It’s an annual event that gives me an excuse to get out and chase birds. Not only do I count and identify each species of birds, but when I get home I can add them to my check list on eBird.

The thing I like about the GBBC is that all you have to do is observe an area for 15 minutes, identify the birds seen, record how many of each species there are and then report it to www.birdcount.org or www.audubon.org. These links also have ideas for beginners and children to enjoy this observing birds.

To help you get started — I have two outdoor activities that you and your family might consider over the President’s Day weekend. The first would involve going to the Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area, west of the North Menan Butte (the “R” Mountain) and the other to the Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area.

At Deer Parks there are between 1,000 and 1,400 Trumpeter swans wintering in the grain and corn fields that were left unharvested so the waterfowl could feed on. The Idaho Fish and Game personnel have plowed trails around the edges of the fields for people to hike near the feeding waterfowl. Cross country skiers or people with snowshoes could go across the fields to observe the waterfowl that are there.

Games for children could include having them try to count all the pure white ones (adults) or count the total gray ones (signets), or counting those that have yellow or pink feet instead of black ones. There are several adult swans that have very crooked necks and some that have leg or neck bands. Those with numbered neck bands can be recorded by the color of the bands and then reported back to the Audubon Society.

On the north side of the Mud Lake there are several patches of corn that was left standing last fall and there are several large flocks of Red-winged blackbirds that have wintered there. Mixed with the Red-wings are several other species of songbirds that feed with them. Trying to identify the different songbirds with the flocks can be a little difficult, but kids watching them move from area to area can be very entertaining and educational. Occasionally Northern Harriers or Rough-legged hawks can be observed attacking the songbirds.

While at Mud Lake several of the thickets have pairs of Great Horned owls, Northern flickers and robins feeding in them. Both Mule and White-tailed deer are often seen in the corn or the thickets.

Parking near the line of large cottonwoods and hiking along the canal on the east side of Mud Lake will allow you to observe Bald eagles, Red-tailed and Rough-legged hawks roosting in the trees.

During last year’s GBBC, I ended up with 11 checklists, identifying 68 species in the four-day weekend, but this year is much different. Last year we had very little snow with nuthatches and Pine siskins working my feeders while so far this year I have seen very few of them. So it will be interesting what shows up on my checklists as I plan to bird hard for the 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count.

I hope to see some of you out at Deer Parks and Mud Lake or other places enjoy the birding activity.

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