JHWF Board Member Bruce Pasfield tries to get an accurate count of Trumpeter Swans on the stretch of Flat Creek within the National Elk Refuge.

Temperatures never rose above zero during the 2016 Christmas Bird Count on December 17, but it was filled with the warmth of a wonderful tradition and the thrill of joyful interaction with the birds of winter.

According to Bert Raynes, the Jackson Hole Christmas Bird Count “got started 60 years ago and covered mostly good bird spots in and around the Murie Ranch near Moose. The counters were a plucky but small group, including Olaus and Adolph Murie and presumably their wives and some other locals.” The Audubon Society sponsors more than 2,500 annual international censuses of birds in North and South America at year-end. Susan Marsh organizes our local count and animates it with her nature-loving spirit.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation sent a team of two staff members (Kate Gersh and Jon Mobeck) and a board member (Bruce Pasfield) out into the field to join the count. Fueled by a good breakfast and conversation with fellow counters at Bubba’s, “Team Goldeneye” got on the board early with a Northern Shrike observation just below the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Driving along the highway north out of town, the team spotted several Common Ravens and viewed ten Trumpeter Swans beyond the dry rushes on a stretch of Flat Creek’s open water.

Moving farther north, “Team Goldeneye” stopped at the Fish Hatchery Pond to record waterfowl amid the fog from the frigid water. Here, the first six of 17 Barrow’s Goldeneyes introduced themselves along with 10 Mallards and a pair of Common Mergansers. While binoculars were set down for a moment to allow fingers to thaw, a Bald Eagle flew high above the pond eastward toward the Sleeping Indian, the first of three Bald Eagle observations. Let us not forget to mention the five Buffleheads we saw at the pond before piling back into the car. A curiously wandering crew, “Team Goldeneye” zipped past the Gros Ventre Junction for a short distance before circling back. While cruising just outside of its territory, Pasfield spotted some wings flapping in the sagebrush. Just as the one bird was definitely recorded as a Greater Sage Grouse, a flock of another 24 descended onto the flats to hide in the sage nearby. A beautiful sight!

The Jackson Hole Christmas Bird Count is a terrific holiday tradition, punctuated by a passionate cast of friendly characters who love to follow birds around the valley. The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation is grateful for each of them, and honored to have shared in the experience with many members of the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole family.

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