Looking for a break from the seasonal frenzy of eating, partying, and shopping? Think about signing up for another holiday tradition: your local Christmas bird count. For fun, or for friendly competition, you’ll be in good company.
This year’s 114th annual Christmas Bird Count will involve people in more than 2,000 towns and cities throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The seasonal snapshot helps inform research and guide bird-conservation efforts.
The counts are held between December 14 and January 5, and involve recording all the birds seen or heard within a specified count circle 24 km in diameter. For example, the centre of the Whitehorse count is the top of Two-Mile Hill at the Alaska Highway.
Anyone can sign up to take part – beginners, experts, alone or in families, or other groups. Participants will record such information as bird species and numbers, weather, time, and distance covered, as well as travel-mode such as skiing, walking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling.
Other volunteers will stay home and participate as what’s called feeder-watchers by keeping an eye on – and recording – the birds that come and go in their yards.
In the Yukon, the Christmas Bird Counts will take place in 13 communities, each on different days during the last two weeks of December. The first Yukon count was Dec. 15 in Teslin and the last will be Dec. 29 in Mayo. Over the border there was also a Skagway count on Dec. 14.
You can sign up for one count or all of them.
An experienced volunteer, called a compiler, helps co-ordinate all the people who participate. Among the volunteer compilers is Shyloh van Delft – a young birder extraordinaire – who is leading a group on Dec. 22, from the Tagish Bridge day-use area at 10 a.m.
Last year her group saw a bufflehead, which is a black and white duck rarely seen here in winter — and that was in -30°C weather.
Wendy Nixon is leading this year’s count in Whitehorse. Last year, 37 field observers in Whitehorse recorded 27 species – just shy of the record count of 28 species in 2004. But even in smaller communities, such as Watson Lake, the birding community is keen and active.
As in other years, I plan on joining the group of Whitehorse birders on Boxing Day to check out the Riverdale side of the Millennium Trail.
Chances are good we’ll see something in the open water near the Rotary Centennial Bridge — maybe the cheerful American dipper, which is a chubby little black bird that likes to perch under the ice edge, dipping in an out of the river. And if it’s balmy weather, maybe we’ll see an American robin on the shore.
The top 10 list includes the common raven, the pretty lred-capped common red-poll, the chirpy pine grosbeak, and the more exotic looking – and usually numerous – bohemian waxwings.
But there are always surprises.
The Christmas Bird Count is supported locally by the Yukon Bird Club, and nationally by Bird Studies Canada. Results of the counts will be available in real-time as posted through the National Audubon Society, at www.ChristmasBirdCount.org