Christmas for R.L. Rowland is synonymous with counting birds. Most holiday seasons since 1984, he has participated in the National Audubon Society's Annual Christmas Bird Count.
"Not quite every year," Rowland said. "I had to go to a wedding once and I was sick twice."
For Boise's 49th annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 17, around 25 volunteers met at 7 a.m. at the Boise main office of Idaho Fish and Game, then divvied up and took a section of the 7.5-mile count circle, with the center on the Idaho Statehouse.
"We take a snapshot census of all the birds within the confines of a certain area," Rowland said. "People go out and start counting birds, seeing how many species we've got. They come back, and we tally up all the numbers at the end of the day: how many miles they drove or walked, what the weather conditions were like, if the nearby lakes or streams were frozen."
Rowland is the Christmas Bird Count co-compiler for the Golden Eagle Audubon Society, which covers southwestern Idaho. He said the total number of birds from the count won't be available for several months because they are vetted and compiled by the National Audubon Society, but he estimates around 100 species of birds were counted on Dec. 17.
In the 2012-2013 count, there were around 425,000 birds across the state—mostly Canada geese, mallards, ring-necked ducks, quail, kestrels, pigeons, doves, crows, magpies, robins, sparrows and finches. In 2014, counters found 90 different species around Boise.
Rowland's biggest concern is continuing the tradition. The count draws as many as 40 volunteers and as few as 12.
"We're trying to attract a younger group of people, because they're the ones that will take over for us," Rowland said. "I'm an official geezer. If you said, 'What's the state of American birding right now?' I'd tell you it looks like me: old, fat, white guys over 60. We need these younger people."
Rowland said there are more than 4,000 counts across the country during this time of year. Most of the Idaho counts have already been completed except for the Bruneau count, set for Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016 at 7 a.m.
"If you don't know a robin from a sparrow, that's OK," he said. "We'll put you with someone who does."