New record set for Ennis Christmas Bird Count

Robin Wolcott peers through a spotting scope at a ruddy duck on a pond north of Ennis last week during the annual Christmas Bird Count. Wolcott organizes the annual event, which was record setting this year as birders found 73 different species of birds in the day-long count. The previous record for species counted was 61. Photo by Greg Lemon

When dawn finally broke to a snow covered Madison Valley last Wednesday more than two-dozen bird enthusiasts scattered out along the roads, fields and hills around Ennis armed with notepads, identification books and binoculars.

They were all participants in the 53rd annual Ennis Christmas Bird Count. And this, as it turned out, would be a record setting day.

Christmas Bird Counts have a long history in America. The first one was held in 1900 when Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and officer in the relatively young Audubon Society, proposed a Christmas Bird Census. The first event included counts in 25 different locations, according to the Audubon Society’s website.

The modern day Christmas Bird Counts are held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 all over North America. The counts are done by citizen birders who volunteer their services for a day in the field.

The Ennis count was started in 1958 by Dr. P.D. Skaar and is organized now by Robin and Richard Wolcott from Bozeman. This year, as fate would have it, Skaar’s son Don was one of the bird counters.

Birders counted in a 15-mile diameter circle that included the town of Ennis, Ennis Lake, Norris Hill, lower Meadow Creek and lower Jack Creek. The goal of the count was to try and count all the feathered creatures inside the circle.

This year, counters took advantage of the mild winter and abnormally calm conditions to set a new record for species counted, with 73. This broke last year’s record of 61.

Birds of note in this year’s count included a Northern Goshawk, Virginia Rail and Barn Owl.

The Barn Owl was certainly considered the bird of the day as this species of owl is rare in this part of the state. It was the first time the species was seen on the Ennis Bird Count, Wolcott said.

This Barn Owl was spotted on during the Ennis Christmas Bird Count and is a rare sight here in the Madison Valley. Photo by Ed Harper


Of the 26 people who counted birds this year, seven were from Ennis, including John and Ann White. The count was Ann’s first.

“I think it was a lot of fun and I think we’re kind of hooked,” White said.

The Whites counted with Ed Harper from Bozeman and were in the group that saw the Barn Owl.

“They’re just glorious,” White said of seeing the owl.

Most of the time it’s easy to not notice the variety of birds in the valley. But with the bird count it really gets you to look closely at places you normally ignore.

“You notice birds now and then when you come and go, but we learned a lot about how to look for birds,” she said.

Participation in the count is somewhat limited because of access around the valley, Wolcott said. But as the count continues and more people find out about it, counters are able to access new pieces of ground and expand their numbers.

It’s hard to know what factors led to this year’s record count, she said. It could be the number of people involved in the count or that they had a few new areas to look over, or it could even be due to the mild weather. But no matter, they’ll take the record number and be pleased with a wonderful day spotting birds.

2 Responses to New record set for Ennis Christmas Bird Count

  1. Timothy Barksdale says:

    Nice Article. Birding seems to becoming more popular. That Barn Owl is certainly cool and what a nice shot.

    It seems that people are progressing from feeding birds to wanting to understand more about them. Then they want to see more of them and even begin to travel to distant locations to just see them or take a picture.

    Timothy Barksdale
    Choteau, MT

  2. Forrest Rowland says:

    As a first-time participant of the Ennis CBC, I was really impressed! The diversity in the valley, good infrastructure, and access to a variety of habitats made this a great place to bird. This was certainly a fun article to read, and I appreciate the media covering this event. With more people coming to view birding as an active event to travel and participate in, I’m sure the organizers are already excited about what next year might hold in store for the Ennis Christmas Bird Count.
    Forrest Rowland
    Big Timber, MT

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