UPPER SOURIS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – The sun came up. Didn’t help the temperature. It was minus 22 when volunteer observers began the annual Christmas Bird Count here Tuesday morning.
Christmas bird counts are held throughout the nation annually with data forwarded to the Audubon Society. Minot area counts have been spearheaded by Ron Martin, Minot, for 42 consecutive years.
“This is probably my last Christmas bird count here,” remarked Matin while waiting for first light. “I think we’ll be moving to the eastern U.S. next summer.”
Martin has been a fixture in the birding community, well-known throughout the state. In the field he listens intently for birds, identifying many by their calls. Others he watches through binoculars or a spotting scope.
“It’s what we do,” said Martin when asked about volunteer bird enthusiasts. “These counts have been going on for years. You have that data from so many years and you can tease things out of it, population trends and such. It’s useful.”
Upper Souris NWR manager Tom Pabian agreed.
“Basically, we see long-term trends, what’s going on,” said Pabian. “What species are doing well and, probably more importantly, what species aren’t doing well. We try to figure out why certain species are not doing well and figure out, as wildlife managers, to reverse that trend.”
Sometimes the weather cooperates during the bird counts. Calm wind and seasonal temperatures generally results in an active day for birds. This year’s count at Upper Souris began with sub-zero temperatures made worse by high winds – not ideal conditions for birds or observers. Only a handful of observers showed for the count.
“There’s not as many people this year for some reason,” said Martin. “There’s not many field birds around in the open country and there doesn’t seem to be as many people feeding birds these days.”
There are fewer birds to feed too, a trend that has become evident for several years running. Small birds are good indicators of what is happening to the environment.
“Especially the grassland nesting species. They are imperiled around here,” stated Pabian. “We keep losing grass every year. With that we keep losing more and more grassland species. The trend is going down.”
Martin participated in both the Bismarck and Garrison Dam bird counts this December. The number of observers and the number of species of birds was less than expected. Much of that, said Martin, was due to roads choked with snow which limited the movement of observers.
Minot’s Christmas bird count is scheduled for Monday, December 26. Anyone interested in participating is asked to gather at the Broadway McDonalds at 8 a.m. Newcomers are welcome.