December 10, 2023

Christmas, a Bird Count & Local Birding Opportunities

userBy Gwen Dildine user0 Comment

Before you start recording a bunch of resolutions for the new year, there is one list that can last a lifetime. Do you have a bird life list? A collection of species observed over a lifetime, a life list is a reminder of all the adventures gone by, time spent on the porch with family, or, perhaps, a reminder of someone special. Birding engages mind, body, and spirit. It spans generations. It should make your resolutions list.

Our valley is full of local knowledge and passion. One might say they have flocked to the Walla Walla Valley to enjoy a few rare species, seasonal migrations, and plenty local mainstays. Sue Parrish is a beloved educator in the valley and an avid birder. She is an active member of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society. I recently corresponded with Sue to ask a few questions about birds in our area and, of course, the upcoming Christmas Bird Count.

What are the most common birds in our area?

This depends on habitat, but in most yards, you can find Juncos, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Robins, and Song Sparrow.

Where are a few places to go birding?

Locally, Bennington Lake, Rooks Park, and the Mill Creek Recreation Trail offer wonderful in-town birding. Just out of town the South Fork Russell Creek Road, McNary Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Burbank, and South Fork Coppei Creek Road are known life list builders.

Additionally, every Tuesday morning at 8:00 am the Blue Mountain Audubon Society leads a birding walk around Bennington Lake. It’s a great way to start birding. No need to sign up—just meet at the large parking lot down by the lake.

What are a few go-to resources to help a fledgling birder?

I think the best birding application is Merlin Bird ID. It was built by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, and it is free. Merlin not only gets you started on the basics of birding, but there is a feature that recognizes the bird song, further helping with identification. For visual learners, there are wonderful photographs as well.

For a bird reporting site, consider eBird, again by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. This site publishes recent bird sightings, as well as rare bird alerts. To locate our area, go to eBird. Navigate to the Explore page, explore regions, and start typing city name, selecting as it populates. In addition to learning about recent sightings, the eBird reports location, so if you are building your list, you can narrow your search and discover new places to visit.

What birds are here during the winter months?

Juncos, White Crowned Sparrows, Canada Geese, Redtailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks, Sharp Shinned Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Great Blue Herons, various ducks, and even Anna’s Hummingbird stick around over winter. The sparrows feed on seeds, so leaving the seed heads on the flowers or delaying yard clean up until spring really helps local wildlife survive the harsher conditions of winter.

Predator species go after rodents and small birds. The Anna’s Hummingbird will frequent feeders and also go after gnats and tiny insects that are still around. Learning the aforementioned birds is a great way to familiarize yourself with more common species, helping to build that life list!

What can folks do to help birds?

Putting out feeders is great, but keep them clean! Wash feeders with soap and water, next clean with bleach solution, and then rinse the feeder really well. Lots of birds will show up at feeders in the winter. Anna’s Hummingbird would love to have a feeder. I bring the hummingbird feeders in at night when it’s below freezing.

One important thing to do is somehow mark your large windows to avoid bird strikes. Make designs with soap, use decals, or hang paracord every six inches. That’s a project but works great. Cats also take a huge toll on birds, so keeping indoors is ideal.

Do you really count birds around Christmas?

According to the Audubon Society website, “Frank Chapman (ornithologist and field guide author) and 26 other conservationists initiated the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) as a way of promoting conservation by counting, rather than hunting, birds on Christmas Day of 1900.”

Our local Blue Mountain Audubon Society organizes the Christmas Bird Count for this area. Volunteers set up teams that bird all day in an assigned location, making sure a large area around Walla Walla is covered. Many team leaders are long-time birders, so the count is very accurate. Probably the best way to participate as a newcomer is to come to the potluck at Fort Walla Walla Museum on December 16 at 5:00 pm. Everyone is welcome. Bring something to snack on, and then listen as the teams report what was seen. It’s fun and a good way to learn what’s out there as well as meet some great birders.

Merry Christmas Count

Thank you, Sue, for such wonderful information on what birds to look for in our area, where to go, great resources, and a way to connect with the local birding community. To enhance your local bird knowledge, Birds of the Inland Northwest and Northern Rockies is co-authored by Mike Denny, a local treasure with endless knowledge about area natural history, wildlife, and beyond.

When the bustle of the holidays is too much, there is no better juxtaposition than observing a bird or listening to its song. Wishing you a wonderful, life-list building holiday season. May this blog help your interest in birds take flight.