Eyes looking through binoculars were trained at the sky and trees as the sound of birds pierced the morning sky. Dedicated volunteers spread out across the southern portion of Pratt County Wednesday as they took on the task of identifying and counting local and migrating birds.
The Christmas Bird Count is a nationwide event where agencies and many volunteers take a day to identify and count bird species across the country. Counters use the naked eye, binoculars and spotting scopes. Counters include organizations like Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, hobby birders and biologists.
The local bird count is centered in Sawyer (hence the local event name Sawyer Christmas Bird Count) with a seven-mile radius where volunteers walk and ride as they identify and count bird species, said Jordan Hofmeier, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks aquatic ecologist.
The local count circle has been active since the mid 1970s.
About a dozen volunteers took part in the count covering the KDWPT trails, Pratt County Veteran's Memorial Lake, Lemon Park, the Green Nature Trail, the sand pit on the southwest side of Pratt, several county roads and in portions of Barber County including the Elm Mills area. Some counters will just look out their window at bird feeders.
Birds will be identified and counted by sight and by bird call. For big flocks like geese, the number of birds is estimated. Participants carry binoculars and have bird call recordings they use to get responses from the various species. One call used is the screech owl because other birds like to peck on the owl because they are fast enough the owl can't catch them. This happens with many bird species and is a good way to attract other species to the counters.
The number of species identified varies from year to year but there were from 50 to 60 at last year's count. Common species seen this area include redwing blackbirds, bluebirds, raptors, sparrows, Canada geese, snow geese, robins, doves, gold finch, chickadee, starlings and more.
While most of the birds are local or regularly migrating species, something interesting pops up every year, Hofmeier said.
The Audubon Society started the bird count that occurs all over the country and takes place from mid December into January. There will be several counts in Kansas but only a couple are scheduled for Dec. 21, Hofmeier said.
The information is sent to the Kansas Ornithological Society and the Audubon Society where the information is stored and available to anyone doing research on bird populations.
"It's a big, long-term data set," Hofmeier said.
The information provides long-term data sets that show the health of bird populations. All species are counted, both local and migratory birds that are around for the winter.