Jackson Hole’s 50th Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 21, attracted a record 69 participants, with 56 species recorded to date.

On a warm, mostly sunny day, 25 teams together covered a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on the junction of Highway 89 and Gros Ventre Road. The goal, set 120 years ago by Frank Chapman, instigator of the national Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, was to tally the number of species and the number of birds. That information provides long-term data on the changes of bird populations throughout the U.S.

Fourteen out of 25 reports have been submitted to Coordinator Susan Marsh. Some highlights:

In town, Kay and John Modi, along with Tricia O’Conner and Keith Rush, “tromped through the slush and ice” along Flat Creek through Karns Meadow. They distinguished two female goldeneyes — a common and Barrow’s — swimming together, with no males around. They missed the blue jay that has been a “regular” at Franz Camenzind’s feeder this winter. Karen Jerger and Chuck Harris walked a densely developed stretch of the same creek to find over 300 mallards.

Patty Ewing noted Steller’s jays and Clark’s nutcrackers on count day and contributed Cassin’s finches along with the elusive blue jay to the “count week” roster.

Leith and Barbara Barker, with Reade and David Dornan, added gray-crowned rosy-finches, a Wilson’s snipe and an American dipper to the list from their Gros Ventre route. Team Goldeneye — the Gersh family, Kate Winters and Jon Wiedie — racked up numbers of the more common species, such as ravens, chickadees and magpies, plus two bald eagles seen along the village road in Wilson.

Susan Marsh and Joan Lucas saw red crossbills and found the great-blue heron in “its traditional spot” on private land.

Accompanied by biologist Tim Pratt on a loop north through the National Elk Refuge, Tim Griffith’s team scored ducks in the unfrozen Nowlin ponds — including over 40 pintails, several hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks and first ever for the count, redheads — a large duck with a distinctive red head. Big birds of the rolling hills to the northwest included 20 bald eagles, northern harriers, rough-legged hawks and a golden eagle. Griffith also rose at 4 a.m. in search of owls and finally heard a great horned.

The Teton Media Works team of Jennifer Dorsey, Mark Huffman, Tom Stanton and Melissa Cassutt roamed south of Gros Ventre junction and west of the road. They spotted a group of four black-capped chickadees, two bald eagles, several magpies, three white-breasted nuthatches and 15 ravens — or as Huffman put it, “the same raven, 15 times.”

In addition to birds, Dec. 21’s keen-eyed watchers noted many mammals, including their tracks: over 2,000 elk, two to three dozen bighorn sheep, moose, deer, ermine, coyotes, muskrats, mink, mice and meadow voles, not to mention six wolves. It’s hard to imagine another place in the country where Christmas Bird Count participants enjoy such an array of critters.

The Audubon Society’s website, at TinyURL.com/christmasbirdcount18, offers interesting comparisons with other count circles in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Jackson Hole count has the greatest number of participants and usually the highest number of species. Yet communities have their key differences in species and numbers.

Dubois, for example, had introduced chukars (55) and many rough-legged hawks (14), pinyon jays (67), Townsend’s solitaires (18), rosy-finches, both gray-crowned (121) and black (100), and a few robins (four). Teton Valley, Idaho, had another introduced game species: gray partridge (22), sharp-tailed grouse (16) and almost 400 American robins.

Here in Jackson we had one robin in 2018, and none reported yet for 2019.

While the size of teams and observation time makes a difference, climate and habitat are two key variables within our region.

All the count circles have a large number of non-native bird species adapted to more urban areas: rock-doves (pigeons), Eurasian collared doves and house sparrows. The Audubon count helps to track their increases over time, as well as those of the native birds. Indeed, all of our data contributes to understanding the shifting patterns over the long term, which is essential to bird conservation.

Thanks to the hundreds of bird counters here and around the ecosystem for your 2019 contributions. We will provide the final numbers for the Jackson Hole count once all the reports are in.

— Contributed by Susan Marsh

and Frances Clark

Field notes: The Zeiglers took a photo of a great horned owl perched outside their house on Dec. 22.

On Thursday, Joan Lucas saw over 50 cedar waxwings flush up and away from a planting of junipers on West Gros Ventre butte. She then heard one remaining bird giving a soft high note of a Townsend’s solitaire followed by a squawking jay-like call she had never heard before. Upon further research at Xeno-Canto.org, which catalogs bird sounds recorded around the country, she finally found one from that matched what she heard: a Townsend’s solitaire squawking at a flock of cedar waxwings in red cedar trees in Wisconsin!

Bruce Hayse and Bru Wicks have had three blue jays at a time and Bruce added he has had many evening grosbeaks and a lot of Clark’s nutcrackers coming to his feeder this past week.

Gerry Amadon has a pheasant at his feeder in Wilson, likely the last survivor of the “released” game birds that appeared in the vicinity in October.

A very Happy New Year to all!

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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