Heading to Howe for the annual Christmas Bird Count, was like running a gauntlet, herd after herd of elk crossed the road with an occasional herd of pronghorns also looking for greener pastures in the white terrain. Most of the elk were cows and calves with an occasional small bull with them until I dropped into the farmlands in the Little Lost River Valley.
About halfway through the valley, I saw a herd of 23 bulls, typically for this time of the season, no cows were part of the bachelor party. I watched them until there was enough light to get some pictures before I skated down the ice covered 3600 North Road to Howe.
Several of the expected participants of the count did not show up at the Howe meeting hall, so three women took half of the assigned area for the count while I took the other half. As I was driving down the Little Lost River Highway, I saw several Chukars picking up gravel along the road. As I stopped as they ran to some dead willows where I located 14 of them huddled against the cold.
They were my second specie to record as I had located a barn owl on top of a tarped haystack near the herd of bull elk. They were the first two species of my 26 that I located and of the 38 that both groups located for the day. We did the count on Tuesday and on Wednesday, another birder completed a “Count Week Birds” survey and found nine more species that we did not see for a total of 47 official species.
About halfway through my count, I saw an American crow digging in the snow not too far from the road. As I stopped as the crow pulled a vole out of the snow. As I started taking pictures, the vole and the crow had a standoff as the crow’s bill was not large enough to grab the vole. Enter a Common raven with a mega-sized bill that flushed the crow, grabbed the vole by the neck; no argument, no standoff, only brunch for the raven. A toss into the air and down the hatch went the warm meal.
Later I wondered how important the 214 ravens that we counted are important to the farmers as they harvest the destructive rodents.
Another interesting part of my count area was at a large dairy/feedlot on 3800 North where there were over 200 rock pigeons, over 300 Eurasian collared-doves, over 200 European starlings and over 600 house sparrows. It was a haven for small hawks as I counted two Merlins, each carrying a captured bird, an American kestrel and three Prairie falcons harassing this bird population.
The 2022 Christmas Bird Count is the 123rd annual count that shows trends of bird populations and their movements over the years. In a study of 16 common duck species from the Southeastern United States showed that they had shifted north over the past 50 years. In 2018 Howe count we found over 300 Rough-legged hawks and 18 Prairie while in this count we found only 47 roughies and six prairies. The dropping of numbers may be weather related this year or a permanent drop over the years. Experts will study the numbers and determine if these drops are permanent or temporary.
I like to be involved in the Howe count because I know the area in which I am assigned and I also count that area during the Great Backyard Bird Count held in February. In the meantime I will be watching a lot of different wildlife and enjoying them.
With the amount of snow we are still getting, the big game animals along with predators like cougars are moving to lower areas to escape the deep snow. Watch out for them as they cross the roads and even enter some of our communities. We continue to build structures in their traditional wintering areas creating more conflict with them.
I wish all of you a very pleasant New Year and hope that you will be safe and happy!!
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