Christmas Bird Count

National Audubon
Christmas Bird Count page
Image courtesy National Audubon,

The Christmas holidays bring us a bevy of welcome annual traditions. We listen to the melodies of the Nutcracker and traditional carols.

[Black-capped Chickadee recording by Kevin Colver: Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills]

Many also listen for bird melodies as we join in the annual Christmas Bird Count. These are exhaustive, one-day surveys of all the individuals of every species of bird found in a locality. Christmas Bird Counts began 111 years ago in New York City as a holiday alternative to the excesses of a hunt that targeted all birds. Provo’s count followed soon after in 1903.

From that first inspiration, the Christmas Bird Count has spread to all 50 states and throughout the Americas. Last year, there were 2,600 counts, totaling 56 million individual birds representing over 2,300 species. Last holiday season, hundreds of Utahns participated in 24 local counts, reporting 184 bird species from Saint George north to Bear Lake.

I always join Logan’s Bridgerland Audubon count, which has been running for 54 years. Last year, with 62 participants we found 99 bird species in our standard count circle of 150 square miles. That’s remarkable for a chilly winter’s day, considering that many of our feathered friends have hightailed it south for the winter. But note that some northerly species, such as Rough-legged Hawks, view Utah as the balmy endpoint of their fall migration.

Christmas Bird Counts offer something for everyone, from novices to seasoned birders. Some choose simple feeder counts; others undertake vigorous back country walkabouts. Some will be up in the predawn, listening for owls.

[Great Horned Owl recording by Kevin Colver: Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country]

Every count’s data contributes to long-term research about winter dispersal patterns of birds and their population trends. If you like birds, join in the fun and make the Christmas Bird Count one of your holiday traditions.

All counts are scheduled between December 14 and January 5. Utah’s Christmas Bird counts are listed on our website: just search for Wild About Utah or go to the UtahBirds website directly. Our Logan count is on Saturday, December 18. That evening, we’ll all flock together for a big potluck party where we tally up our bird count totals.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Photos: Courtesy National Audubon,
Sounds: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver,
Text: Linda Kervin & Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Christmas Bird Counts in Utah,, Milt Moody, Webmaster,

The 109th Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action, National Audubon Society, Inc.
Idaho Circles:
Utah Circles:

Botanical Velcro® aids seed dispersal

Burdock Flower
Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

The splendid blooming meadows of summer are fulfilling their reproductive imperative now as they mature and disperse the fruits and seeds that resulted from pollination. Plants can’t walk or actively fly, so to disperse from the mother plant, seeds need to catch a ride. Wild gourds bob down flooding arroyos, thistledown floats on the wind, and red barberry fruits hope to catch the eye of a hungry song bird.

Certainly the most annoying means of dispersal is employed by seeds that stick in fur and socks. Some like cheatgrass are driven home by sharp barbed seeds that poke and hold like the porcupine’s quill. Others form evil pointy burrs, like those of puncturevine, that can flatten a bicycle tire. And then there is burdock. This European weed infests moister disturbed sites in Utah. Its burrs cling tightly to hair and clothing.

Burdock Hooks
Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Sixty years ago, the Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, became intrigued by the seed heads of cockleburrs and burdocks. They had entangled his dog’s fur and stuck to his pant legs during a montane hunt. How did those burrs cling so steadfastly? Aided by a hand lens, you can see what de Mestral saw: ranks of hook-tipped bristles that snag clothing and fur. Burdocks inspired de Mestral’s invention of Velcro, whose patented nylon bristles are hooked over just like burdock’s and latch on just the same. When next you are beset by burdock burrs, inspect one closely and admire the inventiveness of nature. Then please terminate its dispersal by placing it where the seeds of this weed can’t germinate and grow!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Velcro ® brand is a registered trademark of Velcro Industries B.V.

Velcro USA Inc. Celebrates 50th Anniversary, (Press Release)

Invention of Velcro ® brand Fasteners, Fastech of Jacksonville, Inc.,

Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa L. NRCS Plants Database,

Seed Dispersal, Missouri Botanical Garden,

Boxelder Bug Poetry

Boxelder Bugs
Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Bill Holm wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. He helped me come to terms with one aspect of Utah nature that I found troublesome at first —the ubiquitous and abundant boxelder bug.

“My boxelder bugs have odd preferences,” Holm wrote. “They love radio dials, phonograph speakers, amplifiers, pianos, and harpsichords. Some would argue that this is because of the warmth and vibrations, but I prefer to think it is because of their taste for Bach and Vivaldi.”

According to Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension, the red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They stain walls or carpets if you squish them. However, they are annoying primarily because they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers. Once in, they’ll find their way into your personal effects. Like your hair or your toothbrush or the glass of water you keep on the bedside table.

After hearing me go off on a boxelder bug rant, a friend gave me Holm’s book Boxelder Bug Variations: A meditation of an idea in language and music. It changed my attitude toward with household invaders, as now I think of them as poetic. Maybe if I read a few verses, you will feel the same:

First, a boxelder bug prayer:

I want so little
For so little time
A south window,
A wall to climb,
The smell of coffee,
A radio knob,
Nothing to eat,
Nothing to rob,
Not love, not power,
Not even a penny,
Forgive me only
For being so many.

And finally, three boxelder bug haiku:

(1) Careful if you kill him!
There may be an afterlife
For both of you.

(2) Those black spots in your lamp?
Only bugs who didn’t make it
Into the next world.

(3) The piano string stops trembling
But boxelder bugs
Keep dancing.

Thanks to Jen Levy for introducing me to boxelder bug poetry, and to Milkweed Editions for permission to reproduce Bill Holm’s work.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, Holm, Bill, 1985, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions

Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:

April Light by May Swenson

May Swenson, 1965 in Tucson
Copyright © L.H. Clark
Courtesy Utah State University Press

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

In Logan Cemetery a granite bench marks the grave of May Swenson, a native Utahn and eminent poet. She was born in Logan in 1913 and attended Utah State University where she published her first poem. She moved east in 1936, and eventually, she became one of America’s most inventive and recognized poets, She won many awards including Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants, the Yale Bollingen Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Utah State University conferred an honorary doctorate on Swenson in 1987. Despite her many achievements and her years living away from Utah, Swenson never forgot her Mormon heritage or her identity as a Westerner.

Nature played a prominent role in Swenson’s work. In fact, she published a collection of poetry called Nature: Poems Old and New which is brimming with imagery that evokes the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

An example is a poem called April Light. Here it is read by Dr. Paul Crumbley, a professor of English at Utah State University.

April light

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.
Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.

To learn more about May Swenson and her work, come to Stokes Nature Center on May 1st at 10 AM. Paul Crumbley will present a program entitled “May Swenson’s Poetics of Natural Selection.” For more information, see

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Readings: Paul Crumbley, English Department, Utah State University, April Light by May Swenson

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Knudson, R.R. and Suzzanne Bigelow. 1996. May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Swenson, May. 2000. Nature: Poems Old and New. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.