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Trent Bray, coordinator of the annual Union County Christmas Bird Count, hopes 2010 begins in record-breaking fashion.
A Canada goose settles into a pond at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area in 2009. A total of 373 Canada geese were spotted during last winterâ€™s Union County Christmas Bird Count. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Bray and other members of the Grande Ronde Bird Club will be taking aim at a
noteworthy mark when this winter’s annual count is conducted Sunday. The birders will be seeking to spot at least 77 bird species. To do so would break the record of 76 set in 2004 and tied in 2005 and 2007.“We want to beat the record. We are going to uncover every stone to find every bird out there. Eighty (species) is possible, but we would be happy with 77,’’ said Bray, owner of the Bobolink, a La Grande birding supply store.
Bray will begin counting just past midnight Sunday, listening for owl calls in the Ladd Canyon area.
“That is a good place to find northern pygmy owls,’’ Bray said.
Although Bray will be counting long before sunrise, almost everyone else involved in the count will be working during daylight. All birds heard or seen during the count can be included in the total recorded.
The freezing weather Northeast Oregon is experiencing may help Sunday’s count. The reason? Birds tend to congregate in the same areas when the weather is bad, making them easier to find. Waterfowl in Union County, for example, are found almost only at the City of La Grande’s sewage lagoons and Hot Lake, the few sites with open water.
This will be the second year the count has been conducted in early January. It was held in mid-December throughout its 34-year history until last winter. The count was originally set for Dec. 21 a year ago but had to be moved to early January 2009 because of poor weather.
The switch was so successful that Bray decided to hold the count in early January again this winter. He noted that it is often easier for people to participate after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The Union County Count is conducted in an area centered at the La Grande Airport. The same area has been used throughout the count’s history. The area has a 15-mile diameter and a radius of 177 square miles.
Some of the area is on private land, which counters do not have access to. Counters, however, are gaining greater access to private land in recent years, which increases the likelihood of spotting more birds.
The count has 15 routes. A leader has been assigned to each route.
The Christmas Bird Count is an international event conducted for more than a century by the National Audubon Society. Count results are sent to the society, which publishes them.
Jan. 4 is the last day a National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count can be conducted.
Last winter mallards were the most populous bird during the Union County count with 4,243 being spotted. Starlings were second at 1,663, and Cedar waxwings were third at 1,180. House sparrows were fourth at 635, and California quail were fifth at 496.
All told, 75 species were spotted.