Yukoners are invited to join people from throughout North America and the world in search of birds this weekend as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
Unlike the one-day Christmas counts with more rigid rules (and often frigid conditions), the GBBC is an-all ages “keep it simple” event taking place Feb. 15 to 18. You can look for birds anywhere – your greenbelt, popular birding locations (Millennium Trail, McIntyre Creek wetlands, Tagish Bridge) or just out your kitchen window.
“Even though it’s less structured, it still provides some interesting records and a sense of the diversity of species,” says local biologist and birder Cameron Eckert.
Launched 16 years ago mainly as a feeder-watcher activity, the GBBC is led by the venerable Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada and sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited. Its aim, like the Christmas Bird Count (see sidebar) and similar events, is to help get a better snapshot of bird populations, species and trends — and celebrate birdlife at the same time.
The easy-to-use website at www.BirdSource.org has all the information you need to take part. Observers are encouraged to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the event and send in a list for each day.
If you can enter your checklists and photos on line, your results are tabulated with others from across the Yukon as well as North America. And by the way, the photo gallery is also worth a visit.
Teachers, families and community groups are encouraged to sign up. There’s a specific link for kids and a handy resource called Learn about Birds.
“It’s a great way to see which birds have survived winter in the Yukon and occasionally get a first hint of our spring birds with Red Crossbills, Snow Buntings and Trumpeter Swans showing up,” says Eckert.
It’s also a great time put out bird feeders. Eckert suggests putting out a suet feeder — raw chunks of fat in an onion mesh bag — which woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and magpies will love. Black oil sunflowers seeds are also a good choice.
Some of my favourite birds to watch are the Red-breasted Nuthatch, which is a teeny bird with a sharp bill that climbs trees in my greenbelt looking for bugs; and Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees as well as the rarer Mountain Chickadee, which sports a white streak above the eye.
At the edge of the ice near open water you might get lucky and see a slate-grey American Dipper, a rare wintering American Robin or pretty black and white ducks – Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes. Listen for owls and woodpeckers, too.
Large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings, beautiful robin-sized birds with lemon-yellow-dipped tail feathers, in search of berries are abundant this year.
Last year 43 Yukoners in seven communities took part in the GBBC, with 25 Whitehorse checklists submitted. That was up from 31 participants in five communities, including 16 in Whitehorse, a year earlier. Both years counted a total of 21 species but there were only 830 birds last year, compared to 1318 in 2011.
Often-spotted species include Pine Grosbeak (264 last year), Common Redpoll (a tiny red capped finch and the top bird in 2011) and our familiar pal, the Common Raven. There have been a few more sightings of overwintering ducks and the occasional sparrow.
Last year 623 species were counted in North America and just over 17 million birds overall.
This year the count is going global with links on the www.BirdSource.org website linking to an existing tracking system called eBird.
Contact the Yukon Bird Club by email at YukonBirdClub@gmail.com for more information about participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count Highlights
Another winter birding event that draws out flocks of hardy Yukoners is the Christmas Bird Count.
This year 13 communities took part during the Christmas week, despite temperatures hovering near -40 in some areas.
In Whitehorse, bundled birders recorded 27 species and a total of 2,594 birds.
In numbers, the Common Ravens topped that list (surprise) with 1,164 at the Whitehorse City Landfill.
Some of the special sightings were a rare wintering Barrow’s Goldeneye duck in the open water by the dam in Whitehorse and a rare Bufflehead duck in Tagish.
Among the many birds we spotted were Pine Grosbeaks (156), Black-billed Magpies (147), Mallard ducks (50), Ruffed Grouse (4), and White Crowned Sparrows (2).
A count was held at Lebarge-Takhini for the first time, with a record sighting of two White-crowned Sparrows and a “goose of sorts”.
All results will be posted soon at the National Audubon Society site http://Birds.Audubon.org