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.
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.