Christmastime for birdwatchers includes some fresh bird books and supplies like binoculars, but also it's time for the annual Christmas Bird Counts throughout the US, with three local gatherings in our area, according to Bob Danley of the Bitterroot Outdoor Journal.

The first two are scheduled on the same day - Hamilton and Missoula on December 18. That Saturday, the Hamilton counters will meet at the Teller Wildlife Refuge north of Corvallis at 7:30 a.m. Teams will be assigned areas in a large circle centered on the Ravalli County airport at Hamilton. Also, there's a great lunch included. Meanwhile, the Missoula folks will be "branching" out in the Missoula valley. Larry Weeks has the information at 406 540-3064.

Stevensville has one of the oldest continuing Christmas bird counts in the state and will be operating on December 26. Dave Lockman has the details at 406 381-7679. That count area includes the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, so there's lots of activity there. You don't have to be an expert. They pair up novice birdwatchers with people who've done it before.

Speaking of Christmas, Bob Danley has been checking stocking stuffer ideas and has found three possible book gifts. "Sibley's Birding Basics" came out in paperback in October; American Museum of Natural History has new "Birds of North America" field guide with good photos. And finally, pick up "Butterflies: Their Natural History and Diversity," now in paperback.

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If you're enjoying the unusually warm weather, check the Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge for muskrats. The little swimming guys are about 20 inches long (including the tail) and they do not hibernate. In fact, they get frisky in February when mating season kicks in.

The Bitterroot Outdoor Journal is heard Wednesdays at about 7:45 a.m. on 1240 KLYQ AM radio and

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