The group stopped and listened carefully as they tried to identify and locate birds they were hearing.

It was a cold Monday morning when a dozen volunteer counters set out for various areas southeast of Pratt to count birds for the annual Sawyer Area Christmas Bird Count.

Brian Bartels, ecologist for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, took over organization of the count for the second time.

Retired KDWPT employee Ken Brunson took part in the count and said it started in 1975 in Pratt County with an average of 70 species of bird every year. The snowy owl is the rarest bird in the group with just one seen in past counts, Brunson said.

The count helps track species populations that overwinter in Kansas and the health of those populations as well.

Observing changes in populations raises questions, especially about species that are declining. What is happening at breeding grounds, what is happening to food supplies along migratory routes and other factors that impact species populations, Bartels said.

The other reason for the bird counts is give people who like to bird watch an opportunity to get together and get outdoors and enjoy an activity they like to do.

This year's totals include 72 species recorded with an estimated total number of birds at 22,426. Half of the total count was snow geese.

Bartels said it was good weather for the count with almost no wind and good temperatures even though it was a little cold.

"It was good to get out and enjoy the day," Bartels said.

A dozen took part in the count and were divided into four counting groups that saw a total of seven bald eagles with one group seeing four. The bird of the day, however, went to the red-shouldered hawk with just one seen in the counting area.

Included in the counting area were the Green Nature Trail, the Ninnescah River between the Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake and Pratt, Lemon Park, the KDWPT hatchery ponds, the sand pit on the southwest side of Pratt and the Elm Mills area.

Of all these areas, the Green Nature Trail proved to be a really great place to bird watch, Bartels said.

The counting area is a circle with a 15-mile radius with Sawyer as the center point. This covers an area from the south edge of Pratt to Elm Mills in Barber County making the south side. The west side edge is at Coats and the east side actually ends in a field.

The area almost reaches Isabel. About 70 percent of the count area is in Pratt County and the other 30 percent in Barber County.

This information will go to the Kansas Ornithological Society where the data will be kept for comparison with other count data to determine trends, Bartels said.

The Sawyer Count is one of 49 winter counts scheduled in Kansas from Dec. 8, 2013 to Jan. 11, 2014. Some of the other counts were postponed while at least one was canceled because of weather.

Bartels said a goal was to increase the number of participants and, on a personal goal, to get a bird watching club started in Pratt.

"It's not that hard to bird watch," Bartels said. "Just jump in and get your feet wet."