The Christmas Birdcounts are happening all over the USA this month and we've been using our Bitterroot Outdoor Journal to give you some tips on how to make some identification points. Bob Danley talked about GISS in the last report. The term is from aircraft spotting in WWII and stands for General Impressions of Size and Shape. The silhouettes (see above) show the differences between a Robin and Song Sparrow. For size - is the bird large like a Raven, medium size like a Robin, or small like a Song Sparrow? Compare the body parts - length of the bill compared to the width of the head and what is the length of the tail compared to the body?. Snap judgments - Does the bird have a barely visible neck or does it have a long neck; are the legs long or short? Add those together and you have valuable information. "I saw a bird that was larger than a crow with long legs and a neck that was as long as its body." That information can really help a trained observer figure out the identity.

You've got those parts handled. Now, get more detailed, if you can. (See the image below) Check the pattern of the feather groups. Look for lines or stripes that look like eyebrows or eyelines or moustaches. The top of the head is the crown. It might have another color. Like humans have bags under their eyes, some birds have different colors around or near their eyes. Look for differences at the base of the bill, too.

Bird counts are also great ways to meet interesting people who are in tune with our natural world. The Bitterroot Audubon Society has the information about the counts on their website. The Hamilton count is December 15. Meet at Teller Wildlife Refuge Education Building, north of Corvallis at 7:30 a.m. with chili and Oreos at noon (thanks for the 32nd time to Bill Good), and having a grand time with fellow birders. The Stevensville Count is December 29. Meet at the Stevensville Ranger Station on the north end of Main. The Big Hole count will be January 5th. Carpooling will be set up. Check the Bitterroot Audubon website.

You can tell a lot just be looking at the general outline of the bird. (Bob Danley image)