A great horned owl watched with little apparent interest as National Audubon Society volunteer Jack Trotter chalked him up in the group's annual Christmas bird count.

Trotter would spot two pairs of great horned owls, the largest species found in the area, as well as a barn owl."Any day I can look an owl in the eye is a good day," said Trotter, a pediatrician.

Trotter and his wife, Cathy, were among 14 observers who scoured a 7-mile radius of Twin Falls to identify bird species and estimate their numbers.

The annual national event's numbers are published by the Audubon Society. They are used to spot trends in bird populations and as a reference for bird watchers traveling around.

Trotter, 44, has been involved since the local Prairie Falcon Chapter was formed in 1980.

He described this year's count as "mediocre." He identified 46 bird species from morning until dark Dec. 18. They ranged from bald and golden eagles in the Snake River Canyon to the ubiquitous starlings and finches.

The light snowpack so far has allowed the birds to remain spread out in their range between the Sawtooth Mountains and the South Hills, Trotter said.

In years when winter comes hard and early, the birds are squeezed into the valley and numbers are up, he said.

There are bright spots in Trotter's search. In addition to the owls, the couple spotted more than a dozen pheasants. Last year, Trotter said he saw just one.

And early in the day, another volunteer identified a Virginia Rail - an uncommon water bird similar to a small heron - in the canyon, Trotter said.

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All told, the group identified 55 species and counted 9,806 birds, reported volunteer Stu Murrell, a retired Idaho Fish and Game officer.

Up to 65 species are found in the Magic Valley. As far as bird species go, southern Idaho is "pretty sparse," Trotter said.

There are about 500 bird species found north of Mexico. Trotter estimates he has seen or heard about 475.

During his time in Twin Falls, Trotter said he has noticed the decline in pheasants and a reduction in the number of songbirds. One big reason is the loss of habitat in the fields.

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