Libby and Rick Avis and Sheena Falconer try to verify the species of cormorants they spotted drying their wings on a log boom in Fisherman’s Harbour

Christmas bird count sees boost

Port Alberni’s numbers were up and some rare birds were spotted during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Port Alberni’s numbers were up and some rare birds were spotted during the annual Christmas Bird Count, held Dec. 27 around the Alberni Valley.

However, Port Alberni’s numbers are still low compared to other centres on the Island, says count compiler Sandy McRuer.

“Anyway, 9165 birds were counted from 88 species. This is up from last year where only 77 species were identified and 6,609 birds were counted,” McRuer said. “The better weather had quite a bit to do with it; no wind only an hour of rain, mild temperatures meant no frozen lakes, and even sun later in the day.”

Compared to neighbouring communities we fare poorly, he said. “For instance, last year Parksville had 115 species and 23,282 birds.”

Port Alberni’s numbers are usually lower because there are fewer skilled observers, “far fewer” participants, and more habitats, such as gravel, sand beaches and open ocean, he explained.

This year several people came from Courtenay, Nanaimo and even Rossland, B.C. to help with Port Alberni’s count.

The bird count consists of two parts: people who go out in the field and those who count birds at their backyard feeders.

“The number of field counters they had was 33. We had 21. They had 31 feeder counters and we had 20. Nanaimo, Courtenay and Nanoose are similar,” McRuer explained.

“Nevertheless, we definitely had some very nice birds that aren’t commonly seen on birds counts on Vancouver Island. Here are a few: Ruddy Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Hermit Thrush, Western Meadowlark, American Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak.

“As always there were birds that we think we should have found but that eluded us on Count Day. The most notable one is the Red-winged Blackbird,” he added.

“Thankfully there is Count Week, the three days before and three after Count Day. During this period we can record these birds, not as numbers but as CW, for Count Week. Some of these include, Red-throated Loon, Pelagic Cormorant, Western Grebe, and Brewer’s Blackbird.”

After 22 years, McRuer announced at a wrapup dinner at the Golden Dragon that he is stepping down. “The torch is being passed or doused,” he said.

McRuer spent four years doing an unofficial count, but has diligently reported bird count numbers to the Audubon Society for more than two decades.

“It’s time for someone else, preferably younger, to take it on,” he said.

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