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By Jesse Utz 

A tradition in Coulee, going to the birds

Jess Shut Up


I recently became aware of a tradition in our area that is on the brink of extinction, and that because of a few people that don’t live here, it has squeaked by the last few years.

The Annual Winter Grand Coulee Bird Count. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until over the holiday week I had to a chance to sit down with Gary Kuiper. Some of you know who he is, but most of you most likely do not. Who he is, is not nearly as important as what he did while he lived in the Coulee many years ago. But I am jumping the gun a little bit. Let’s have a history lesson.

In the early 1800s in America, there was a tradition that does not get followed and is considered, well, illegal, by today’s standards. As families gathered for the holidays, they also gathered their ammo and guns and went out as a group to their favorite hunting area and, well, they killed everything that moved. Big game, birds of all sizes, rodents, and anything else that crossed their path got slaughtered, and who- ever had the biggest pile at the end of the day won that years contest. (This is not the tradition I want to save.)

In the 1900s our leaders noticed a lowering number of critters throughout America, including a drastic reduction in the bird populations. That’s when Audubon Society member Frank Chapman decided to create a new kind of Christmas hunt. Twenty-seven people participated in that first bird count and recorded 90-plus species in their designated area. Two years ago, 63,223 volunteers from the Arctic Circle to Argentina performed counts.

This Winter Bird Count in the Coulee has also been going on for a long, long time. But last year there was only a small handful of volunteers and not one of them was from our area. Mr. Kuiper has made the trip every year, even though he now lives in Mead, Wash., but his heart is still here with our eagles, sparrows, woodpeckers and owls.

On Dec. 21, this year’s bird count will take place. I will be with them. So I know at least one person from here will be helping them find the feathered.

I know what your thinking: “I don’t know what all the birds are!”

Well, that’s OK because they need drivers, too, and some people that just know the area better than they do. Also, what better way to learn what kind of flying fowl are out there than to be with a semi-expert on birds?

This is a tradition in our area that goes back many years, longer than I have even been alive, in fact, and I, for one, do not want to see this slip away. What a great way to give back to nature that has provided for us for years and continue a venue for future generations.

Rare birds have been found here in the past during these scouting trips, and it seems more and more have multiplied and migrated to our little neck of the woods.

So lets get out there, Coulee Country. Lets count how many turkeys there actually are out there that don’t write a weekly column.

Contact me for more info.

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