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120818 mallard over ice.jpg

A female mallard duck flies over a slushy Clark Fork River looking for a clear spot to land in. With the recent cold snap, the river has filled with ice through much of downtown Missoula.

The 110th annual Audubon Christmas bird count starts next Friday for Montana birdwatchers, and participants had better brace for tough conditions.

Nationwide, the citizen-science effort builds on one of the biggest data sets of animal behavior in the world. Volunteers spend a specific day in their region cataloging every bird species they can in 24 hours. In the Missoula area, experienced birdwatchers often report seeing 20 to 30 varieties.

“We encourage anyone interested in helping with this effort to contact Montana Audubon,” said Larry Berrin, Montana Audubon Society’s executive director. “You don’t have to be an experienced birder to participate. We’ll put you in touch with the person leading the count closest to you. That person will then match up newcomers or beginners with more experienced folks.”

However, you should be dressed for a weather system pushing abundant snow at elevations above 4,000 feet for much of western Montana on Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures should be around the freezing point.

In western Montana, the Christmas count runs from Friday, Dec. 14, through Saturday, Jan. 5. Dates include:

• Dec. 14: Clark Canyon (Dillon)

• Dec. 15: Eureka, Troy, Upper Swan Valley, Bigfork, Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, Hamilton, Chester

• Dec. 16: Libby, Glacier National Park, Musselshell Valley, Park County

• Dec. 19: Ennis

• Dec. 20: Miles City, Grant-Kohrs (Deer Lodge)

• Dec. 22: Yellowstone National Park

• Dec. 26: Three Forks

• Dec. 29: Cut Bank, Lewistown, Stevensville

• Dec. 30: Kalispell, Fort Peck, West Yellowstone

• Jan. 1: Warm Springs

• Jan. 5: Big Hole, Ruby Valley

CBC schedules, updates, an interactive map of count locations, and contact information for count leaders throughout the state can be found via the Montana Audubon website: mtaudubon.org.

New this year is the use of Montana Audubon’s new web portal — Montana eBird: ebird.org/mt. This Montana-based citizen science tool allows birders to enter their photos, videos and sightings in real time, either online or via the free eBird app on their phones.

Those interested in learning more about the Christmas Bird Count nearest you should contact Montana Audubon by phone 406-443-3949; email, info@mtaudubon.org or visit mtaudubon.org.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.