|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native
The short-eared owl, pine siskin, and rough-legged hawk are among birds spotted at the Pine Ridge Christmas Bird Count. Courtesy/Bill Bossman
Bird Watcher’s eyes on Pine Ridge
Christmas Bird Count Circle on scene
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor
PINE RIDGE VILLAGE – Kids and adults have a chance to share knowledge about their winged relatives during the admission-free Christmas Bird Count Circle on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Dec. 22.
The event starts at 7 a.m. with a rendezvous at Big Bat’s on the main corner of Pine Ridge Village.
“Show up and look for people with binoculars!” bird count compiler Peter Hill says.
Participants in the bird count circle are scheduled to head west on Highway 18 to a central launching point about halfway to Oglala. From there they will drive and walk out into different kinds of terrain to see what birds are in season.
The territory covers lots of pine-fringed knolls north and east of the highway, Oglala Dam environs, a 15-mile stretch of White Clay Creek, and scrub juniper habitat, as well as badlands topography west of the highway in the direction of Slim Buttes.
“Any people who are interesting in participating are welcome. Binoculars and the ability to identify birds are pretty necessary to make a real contribution to the day's work, but if someone is curious and wants to come along for the ride and help as needed, that can work too,” Hill says.
The 2012 Christmas Bird Count logged 34 species and 907 individual birds in the same area of the reservation that is targeted for the new count.
“We were happy to have had 10 species of birds of prey,” Hill noted. That was a 1,000-percent increase over the first year of the reservation tally, in which red-tailed hawks were the only raptor of the day, he said.
The first year was just a trial run to practice for launching the official count in 2012, he added.
The event is part of a continental Christmas Bird Count, an annual occurrence that has been taking place around the Americas for 114 years. It enables citizen scientists to collect data critical for bird conservation, while providing opportunities for participants to familiarize themselves with local surroundings. Tens of thousands of people get involved with birds this way.
Hill, who moved to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation 13 years ago, had been doing Christmas Bird Counts for a long time on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, as well as in Rapid City and other points in South Dakota.
“I thought it would be great to have a count here on the reservation,” he says. “I think the place really has a lot to offer, particularly with a number of diverse habitats.”
In the future, Yellow Bear Canyon and the Kyle area of the reservation could well be bird circle targets, he suggests.
Last year’s bird count took place in sunny, cold weather, he remembers. Bird watchers involved were Jocie Baker, Bill Bossman, Nancy Drilling, Michael Melius, Ricky Olson, and Eugene Zielinski.
Mild temperatures in early winter 2012 left open water, allowing the observers to see beaucoup water fowl.
If the weather is too harsh this year, the Pine Ridge Christmas Bird Count will be postponed until Jan. 5, 2014, according to Hill. Other counts are taking place around the state throughout December and the beginning of January.
Opportunities to take part near Pine Ridge are: Badlands National Park, Hot Springs, Wind Cave National Park and Rapid City. Elsewhere in the state, locations include: Aberdeen, Bison, Brookings, Burke, Canton, Huron, Lake Andes, Madison, Mitchell, Piedmont, Pierre, Sand Lake Shadehill, Sioux Falls, Spearfish, Sturgis, Yankton, and Waubay.
Last winter, birders completed 19 counts in South Dakota, with Pierre recording an all-time state high count of 88 species. Yankton counters registered 82 species. Lake Andes, Pierre, and Yankton reported good numbers of ducks that significantly bolstered their totals. Pierre alone reported 19 waterfowl species on count day.
Three mute swans were noted at Sioux Falls, while Pierre birders found a single tundra swan. Yankton reported one white-winged scoter and one Franklin's gull on count day. Snowy owl numbers were not impressive, compilers reported. A single gyrfalcon was logged at Shadehill.
Yellow-headed blackbirds were reported from Sand Lake and Sioux Falls. The marsh wren at Rapid City and the Carolina wren spotted at Sioux Falls were welcome finds.
South Dakota’s finches made a big showing. A flock of gray-crowned rosy finches was seen on count day at Rapid City, while purple finches were noted on 11 of 19 counts. Red crossbills were found at Brookings, Pierre, and Shadehill. White-wingeds were seen at Huron. Common redpolls were recorded on all South Dakota counts. Hoaries were noted at Aberdeen, and Pierre, while evening grosbeaks were found at Piedmont, Spearfish and Sturgis.
The Audubon Society organizes the compilation of counts into what has become the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of unbroken data on trends of early-winter bird populations across the Americas.
Last year's continental count shattered records. A total of 2,369 local events with 71,531 people tallied more than 60 million birds of 2,296 different species.
Counts took place in all 50 U.S. states, all Canadian provinces, and more than 100 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.
Three new counts took place in Cuba, where for the first time ever, the tiniest bird in the world, the Bee Hummingbird, was included in results.
The Christmas Bird Count revealed the dramatic impact climate change is having on wildfowl and a disturbing decline in common birds, including the northern bobwhite quail, according to the Audubon Society.
The many decades of data also expose success stories. The Christmas Bird Count helped document the comeback of the vanishing bald eagle and significant increases in water bird populations, both the result of conservation efforts, the Audubon Society notes.
For more information on the Pine Ridge Christmas Bird Count, contact Peter Hill at (605) 595-3715, firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Contact Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment editor at email@example.com) Copyright permission by Native Sun News