A crowd gathers at Queen’s Park in New Westminster in January 2014 to witness a red-flanked Blue-tail that should have been in Japan or China. SANDY MCRUER PHOTO

PAC RIM ACTIVE: Christmas bird counts are part of a busy season

Many birders making plans for this year’s event



It is the Christmas season again. And for many birders this means making plans for this year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

Right now e-mails and posts are being sent between communities, each CBC compiler around Vancouver Island announcing the date, within the permitted period, of their community’s CBC. And the phone lines are buzzing with texts and calls of birders deciding if they will help out other communities or just do the one at home. This time, it turns out that the Port Alberni CBC is on the same day as both Nanaimo’s and Comox’s.

Bother! That means that we won’t be seeing any help for our little band of birders from those communities. We average about a dozen to 15 participants in the field. Everyone has a different skill level, so we form groups, with one in each group having a good degree of skill.

This is great, but the area we are to bird within is huge. It’s 15 miles in diameter (Yes, miles. The event started in the Eastern USA). So, think of a circle starting at Stamp Falls, and bending eastward to the edge of Cameron Lake, then southward over Yellow Creek and McLaughlin Ridge to China Creek Marina, then across Alberni Inlet to Cous Creek and including Stirling Arm and the east end of Sproat Lake, and the airport. Clearly we can’t cover it all. So we just hit the areas where most of the birds are in winter. And that’s in the lowlands.

Our date is set for Saturday, Dec. 29. All the field participants will be anxiously watching the weather in the days leading up to it. They are generally out all day, potentially in some pretty nasty weather. The group doing the city is lucky in that they can duck into a café for a warm-up coffee and lunch. The others fog up the insides of their vehicles during the breaks. Everyone has a pair of binoculars with them—the leader, at least, has a spotting scope. There is also a note-taker.

A different bunch of volunteers is a little more sedentary. They watch their bird feeders for a period of time, anywhere from 15 minutes, to four hours for the keeners! Sometimes they take a walk around their neighbourhood. Often these people are beginners, so we ask them to register first so we can send them a list of the birds they are likely to see. They can use it to keep track of their numbers and record how long they are watching.

Of course, it’s all about numbers. And the most crucial numbers are what is called “the effort”; that is the number of observers, how much time is spent observing and how far they travel, on foot, in vehicles, or by boat. It is only by collecting this information that the numbers of birds identified in a circle and be compared with those in another circle.

For instance, biologists, wildlife managers, and ornithologists can compare sparrows-per-hour or herons-per-kilometre to monitor population increases, decreases and range extensions or reductions. And since this North American database goes back almost 120 years, it provides a nice long perspective for wildlife managers.

At the end of the day there is a flurry of activity. The group leaders fill out the results form for their area. The feeder counters call in their results too. And then everyone heads off to a gathering at the Golden Dragon where a smorgasboard and stories of the day’s adventures await.

Besides doing a feeder count or field counting, there are a few ways you can participate, even if you aren’t much of a birder. We’ve never, ever counted a Canada Jay (Whiskey Jack). So if your idea of a fun Saturday is to go up high for a bit of snowmobiling and you encounter one, please, let us know! Or if you see a Pine Grosbeak, or a Three-toed Woodpecker. Another way is provide transportation for a crew to Cous Creek fo an hour or so. And yet another way, is to give Annette Bailey a call just before the count day and tell her about an owl in your neighbourhood. Her number is (250) 793-5408. Matter of fact, you can also call her for all your Christmas Bird Count questions. She is the compiler. Or you can call me at 250-731-7015. Merry Christmas.

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