A lark sparrow that usually winters in California captured birders’ attention in the annual Port Alberni Christmas Bird Count at the end of December. RICK AVIS PHOTO

Lark sparrow impresses at Port Alberni’s annual Christmas bird count

Alberni Valley’s bird count was up by thousands for 2018

BY SANDY MCRUER

Special to the News

Port Alberni’s annual Christmas Bird Count was held Dec. 29, 2018. What started out as a pretty miserable cold wet windy day grew into a spectacular afternoon and the birds were out in full force. Count coordinator, Annette Baillie had assigned people to several areas around the populated portions of the Alberni Valley.

There were groups in Cherry Creek, Beaver Creek, Sproat and McCoy Lakes, China Creek and the regional airport as well as the city, the Somass Estuary and the Inlet on the other side of the city.

The count circle is a big area, and not all of it gets covered. But this year, the number of birds counted over last year was up by 14,000. Perhaps it was the nice weather or perhaps it was that we had more people in the field than last year. But overall the total participation was about the same: 38 people, as was the number of species identified; 84.

And, as always, there were a number of good birds (that’s unusual birds, if you’re not a birder). The best among them was a Lark Sparrow found by Rick and Libby Avis. This striking sparrow should have been in California at that time of year.

As the Avises rolled into Klehkoot Marina at Sproat Lake, they found the sparrow hopping around in the parking lot. Rick said it approached them as they sat in their car, getting so close he couldn’t focus his camera on it. But he did manage to get a couple of excellent shots of it which he printed and brought to the wrap-up dinner at the Golden Dragon Restaurant.

Lots of people showed up there with stories to tell and notes to compare. Baillie handed out a couple of prizes, and going through a preliminary tally of the species that people identified by calling out a bird name and asking if anyone had seen it. For each good bird there was a murmur of appreciation and a real buzz when Rick Avis announced the Lark Sparrow.

The birding community here in town would like to thank Krista Kaptein and Frank Hovenden for driving through some pretty wicked weather from Courtenay to help us. And we would also like to thank all the loyal feeder-watchers who faithfully watch through their windows year after year.

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