On a crisp December morning at Lee’s Ferry families, schools, boy scouts, girl scouts and birders from the Grand Circle area met at the boat launch ramp to join rangers with the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to help with this year’s annual bird count.
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has participated in the National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count for years, but this year they expanded it to include kids. The Bird Count for Kids project is a countrywide movement that is much more than just counting birds. Its main aims are to educate kids about birding and interest them in the outdoors, encourage them to explore the environment and ultimately garner an interest in birding in the the next generation.
The tradition of the bird count originated over 118 years ago when people stopped the former bird hunting contests over the Christmas holidays. Due to the decline of several species the census count transcended into a new tradition.
Over 66 volunteers from the Page area, including members of local Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops, Manson Mesa High School, Page High School and members of the 4H, formed into small groups to participate in the census.
The young birders – ranging in age from eight to 18 – grouped with experienced birders. They spent half a day along the Colorado River, some hiking some on a raft provided by Wilderness River Adventures, tallying the birds they saw along the way. They used professional booklets provided by the Glen Canyon Conservancy to help them identify the birds they saw. Several people were lucky enough to tally up rarely-seen birds such as the black-tailed gnat catcher and condors.
“The rarest bird spotted this weekend only the second time spotted here in the park before,” said Lonnie Pilkington, Resource Officer for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “It’s usually found farther south towards [Mexico] or up in California and southern Nevada. We didn’t see any condors on the count Saturday but we did on Sunday at 11 a.m. down at Navajo Bridge. We told a couple of volunteers they could see a Ccndor at the Bridge and they saw three.”
One of the highlights of the trip was using a bird-call app that drew the birds in closer.
“Our guide had this app on her phone, and when we identified a bird she used it to c call and the birds to us,” said Emma Rae, a student from Manson Mesa High School.
“We saw the berwicks wren come out of the bushes this way. It flew over to us and started to talk back to us, it was really cute.”
Rae’s response is exactly what the Glen Canyon NPS had hoped the program would inspire.
Volunteer birder and guide on the raft count NPS Ranger Kerri Norman from the Lake Mead office took the Manson Mesa students on their census. She said it was a lot of fun spending time teaching the students about birding.
“It was really cool to see the younger generation get excited about birding; that was interesting to me.” Norman said.
The first bird count for kids began in California in 2007 and since has grown to 100 census locations.
“A couple of guys from California said they didn’t see too many [youths] participating in the [Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count] so they started a movement to get kids involved, and since 2007 it has grown.” said Pilkington. “It’s a great way to get kids out into the environment when they normally wouldn’t be outside as much. Getting a snapshot on an annual basis can also help detect the trends in bird populations. It’s educational and the kids feel a connection to the environment and it helps promote bird conservation.”
Because this years bird count was such a big hit, Pilkington said they’re planning on doing it again next year.
Martin Tyner from the Southwest Wildlife Foundation of Southern Utah joined the event after the census. Tyner is a regular guest in Page schools when he demonstrates a live raptor show for the youth.
He brought Belle the harris hawk, Cirrus the prairie falcon and Scout the golden eagle to the Bird Count for Kids after the census was winding down. Tyner educates the students on the habits of the species and one thing always stands out to the youth.
Rae also enjoyed the raptor demonstration held by Tyner who she recalls treated the bird like his children.
“I found out that eagles get killed mostly by cars.,” said a student from Manson Mesa. “They eat road kill sometimes and they are very heavy so when a car is driving towards them they are slow getting off the ground and they get hit. It’s sad. This was a fun [event].”
The event was co-hosted by the National Environmental Education Foundation, the Glen Canyon Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Glen Canyon NPS will host the 21st Annual National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count for the Glen Canyon area on January 4th, 2019 at 7:30 a.m. Volunteers and fellow birders will Glen Canyon Recreation Center off Hwy 89 on the outskirts of Page.