Dozens of hardy Spokane area residents strapped on boots, parkas and binoculars Sunday before dawn and fanned out across miles of new snow to perform an annual ritual - the Christmas bird count. The Spokane Audubon Society event was part of the 115th annual nationwide count - the longest-running wildlife census in the world.
Volunteers brave snow, wind or rain - or all of the above - armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists to conduct the survey. Local groups can choose their own dates, from about mid-December to early January.
Each count takes place in a 15-mile diameter circle, and volunteers who live inside one of the circles can simply report the birds which visit their backyard feeders. In Spokane, the center of the circle was Division Street at Francis.
Last year, 62 volunteers put in about 154 hours to spot and record 75 different species which hang around the area even in the harsh winter months. The most common bird by far was the ubiquitous Canada goose - more than 57-hundred geese were counted last December.
Audubon scientists compile the data to study long term health and status of bird populations across the nation.