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For more information on Audubon Christmas Bird Counts in Oregon, visit oregonbirding.org.

With hundreds of birds congregating on icy Fireman’s Pond, counting them all can be a challenge for the inexperienced.

But that’s not Sherrie Pierce and her teammates Sue Bertsch and the aptly named Colleen Pidgeon. They’ve developed a system for counting the mallards, Canada geese and other varieties at the pond in east Redmond.

“We know mostly they’re mallards, so we kind of do ‘em in blocks of 50, 100, 150,” said Pierce, who has been taking part in the count for about a decade. “Then you go back and try to pick out the others. If there were something odd or different they would stand out.”

The three were among about 20 members of the East Cascade Audubon Society’s Wednesday Birders who took part in the annual Redmond Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 2. The count was one of dozens over the last few weeks in Oregon and one of hundreds around the country. The bird count is a 119-year-old community science project of the National Audubon Society, which compiles information collected from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 across the Western Hemisphere. The data collected is used to give researchers insight into trends of the population and health of various species.

Redmond’s was the last scheduled bird count of the season in the area, with Madras, Prineville and Bend already having events.

The birders gathered before daybreak for breakfast at Country Nook north of downtown. They split into five groups, each heading off to count birds in a different area within a 7.5-mile radius of Redmond. While Pierce’s group stayed mostly within the city, event organizer Mike Golden’s group was to head west to count around Eagle Crest before going north toward Terrebonne.

“We do the same area year after year after year after year so it shows a trend in bird population over time,” Golden said.

This year’s count found 14,157 total birds from 72 species, said Pierce, the count compiler. Both were increases over the 2017-18 holiday season count.

In last year’s count, a total of 12,400 birds were spotted in the Redmond area. Birders look at both the number of species found as well as how many different species. They welcomed the increase in the number of species, since last year’s total of 69 was an all-time low since the count began in Redmond.

On average, they spot about 80 species each year, Golden said.

“We just drive every road, go into every little pond, we kind of know the places where birds are found,” he said.

Counts a big draw

Oregon has at least 40 circles where birds are studied, from Burns to the coast, Golden said. He did not expect their count to be impacted by the government shutdown because birders stick to the roads when on Bureau of Land Management property, though the shutdown might have impacted counts elsewhere in the state.

Clay Crofton of Sisters has taken part in Christmas Bird Counts this year from Salem to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge east of Lakeview. He loves the camaraderie of the Redmond count.

“If a rare bird is seen by anybody, the organizers makes sure everybody gets the news and can go look at the bird if they want to,” said Crofton, adding that doesn’t happen on all counts.

A bean goose, which breeds in northern Europe and Asia, is the most rare bird Crofton has seen this year. It was seen at the Finley National Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis.

“But the focus of the Christmas Bird Counts is not the rarest or the most, it’s how many of the common birds are out there?” he said.

Of the more common birds, the Redmond count located 2,791 Canada geese and 1,986 American robins this year. Pierce said a red-shouldered hawk was the least common bird seen in Redmond. According to Audubon, the woodlands hawks are more common in the southeast and along the Pacific coast in California and Mexico.

According to Audubon, the first bird count was held in 1900 as a protest started by Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the pro-bird society. Many were becoming concerned about declining bird populations caused by post-Christmas hunts that rewarded hunters for bringing in piles of dead birds.

The bird count often takes place in cold temperatures in Central Oregon and the Redmond event was canceled due to heavy snow two years ago. While it was clear outside at the start of this year’s count, temperatures were in the 20s. It also means some species will have migrated south, so fewer of them will be counted.

“You’re not going to see a lot of songbirds or warblers or insect-eating birds like swallows,” Pierce said of the Christmas count. “Because it happens all over the country, down south you’re going to get a lot of birds you don’t get in the summer.”

Along with Fireman’s Pond, Juniper Golf Course, a certified wildlife bird area, is a great place for birding in Redmond, said Pierce, who compiles the results of the bird census. She said there’s even a red-tailed hawk nest downtown.

She advises those interested in the hobby to join a group like the Audubon Wednesday Birders.

“We live in an area so rich in birds and nature, it’s pretty easy to walk in the canyon or walk in the park — right in our own backyard,” Pierce said. “And there is always that hope that you might find an unusual bird, which makes it even more fun.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@ redmondspokesman.com

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