Alberta’s Christmas Bird Counts 2015

December brings an important event for birders — the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC)!

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest running wildlife census in North America. It was started over 100 years ago by the National Audubon Society in the United States, and in Canada is co-ordinated by Bird Studies Canada. The information collected by thousands of volunteers makes up one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data, and provides scientists with important information on populations and distribution of wintering birds.

Christmas Bird Counts are conducted on a single day for each community between December 14th and January 5th. Counts are carried out within a 24 km (15 mile) diameter circle that stays the same from year to year. Birders count every bird they see or hear, and all the data are compiled at the end of the day, sometimes at a get-together or potluck.

There are two different types of counters: field observers and feederwatchers. Field observers cover a portion of the count circle individually or with a small group. Feederwatchers count the birds at their feeders, often in the comfort of a warm house, which makes it the perfect activity for young children, seniors, and those in colder climates.

New and beginning birders are always welcome and encouraged to participate. Most organizers place an experienced birder on each team, so don’t be concerned if you’re still learning the ropes of birding.

I’ve been participating in my area’s count for six seasons, and this year I’m organizing our count in Vermilion.

There are lots of counts taking place all over Alberta, and while the Nature Alberta website has a list of some of the counts, I thought I’d make a more comprehensive “At a Glance” list. You can find a PDF version here. If you see that your community isn’t included, please let me know in the comments below.

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To find all the counts happening across Canada, go to the Bird Studies Canada’s map here.

To find all the counts happening across the United States and Canada, go to the National Audubon Society’s map here.

 

The Christmas Bird Count, a Lifer & The Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids)

This past Sunday was the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Vermilion area. The weather was quite nice, probably the warmest CBC I’ve participated in. The temperature was just under -10 degrees C  without any wind, which made the birding much more enjoyable than in previous years. It was also quite foggy and the hoarfrost on the trees was beautiful.

The Vermilion CBC is split up into the usual four quadrants — SW, SE, NE, NW — as well as the Town, College, and Reservoir.

I live in the NW quadrant, so I cover this area every year with a friend who lives nearby.

Sharon picked me up at 9 am and we both decided to head straight for my grandmother’s yard. On the way over, we saw a flock of Snow Buntings, and some Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies.

At my grandmother’s, we watched the birds in almost constant motion as they flew to the many feeders in her yard; three Downy Woodpeckers, two Hairy Woodpeckers, 26 Black-capped Chickadees, two White-breasted Nuthatches, a wary Blue Jay and three Black-billed Magpies were all the species we counted just in the yard.

We shared mugs of hot chocolate and ate Toffifee while looking out the kitchen windows. My grandmother spotted a Dark-eyed Junco feeding on the ground underneath a spruce tree. She said a pair of Juncos had been hanging around her feeders, so it was very nice to see one on count day.

A Blue Jay enjoying peanuts at one of my grandmother’s feeding stations.

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One of the White-breasted Nuthatches,

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The female Hairy Woodpecker in the Mayday tree,

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I’ve never seen a Dark-eyed Junco in December before, so it was exciting to be able to add one to our list,

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My grandmother has been regularly seeing a Snowy Owl on the road just south of her house. We drove down that road where the Snowy Owl was supposed to be, but unfortunately didn’t see it. The only birds we did see were two Common Ravens and one Black-billed Magpie.

We drove through town and saw a large flock of Rock Pigeons then headed down to the Vermilion River on the old bridge where there is currently open water. In some years there’ve been a few ducks on the river during the Christmas Bird Count, so I was hoping there would be some again this year. We didn’t see anything at first, but then I saw something flying towards us. It landed on the river right in front of us, and it was a drake Mallard.

A Mallard in the river and snow on the edge,

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We finished ups after three hours of birding and counting since Sharon had another event at noon, and I had to be at provincial park for the CBC4Kids at 1 pm.

In three hours of birding with Sharon we saw 12 species of birds: Snow Bunting, Common Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Rock Pigeon, Northern Shrike, and Mallard. We also counted the two mammals we saw: a Meadow Vole and a Muskrat.

I had a quick lunch at home and then headed out the park to lead the first CBC4Kids for Vermilion as well as for the province of Alberta! Joining me for the walk were four very excited young birders/naturalists and their parents; we were also happy to have Emily from the local office of Alberta Fish & Wildlife come along. Even though the weather was very nice, perhaps because of the heavy fog, the birds didn’t seem very active — at least where we were. Black-capped Chickadees were feeding in the trees along the trails and two squirrels were chasing each other around a spruce tree. Common Ravens were performing aerial acrobatics and a White-breasted Nuthatch called from a tall spruce.

At one of the benches in the park everyone posed for a photo,

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Playing in the snow,

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As we headed back to the CN Station, five birds flew overhead, and at first I thought they were Bohemian Waxwings. When they landed in some nearby trees I could see that they weren’t waxwings, but Pine Grosbeaks.

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On one of the trails leading to the parking lot, we could hear the tapping of a woodpecker on a tree. Listening, we followed the sound until we were finally able to get a good look. It wasn’t the expected and usual  Hairy or Pileated Woodpecker, but something entirely different. We were able to get great looks at the bird as it was completely absorbed in stripping the bark from the dead spruce tree looking for grubs and insects.

We identified the bird as a female Black-backed Woodpecker,

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This woodpecker species is a little south of its usual range, since Black-backed Woodpeckers usually stick to boreal forest, especially areas with burned trees.

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Watching the bird of the day, and lifer for all,

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We saw seven species in total in the park and the two squirrels. The CBC4Kids was lots of fun and I hope we can hold the event again next year.

In the evening, there’s always a CBC potluck supper in town where everyone shares stories from the day and our compiler tallies the count numbers. Here are the official count numbers:

CBC count day:

Snow Bunting – 140
Black-capped Chickadee – 461
Rock Dove – 174
Northern Flicker – 2
Pine Grosbeak – 37
Blue Jay – 21
Dark-eyed Junco – 1
Black-billed Magpie – 189
Mallard – 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 2
White-breasted Nuthatch – 27
Snowy Owl – 2
Gray Partridge – 24
Common Raven – 49
Common Redpoll – 9
Northern Shrike – 1
House Sparrow – 265
Bohemian Waxwing – 90
Downy Woodpecker – 33
Hairy Woodpecker – 15
Merlin – 1
Woodpecker species – 1 (the Black-backed Woodpecker)

Total Species – 21 Total Individuals – 1,544

Count Week:

American Robin – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 2
House Finch – 12

Christmas Bird Counts around North America run up until January 15th — CBCs are excellent ways to meet other birders in your area as well as to add some new winter species to your list. And you might even find a lifer.

:: Find more CBC4Kids events here

:: Find CBC events across Canada here

:: Find CBC events across the U.S here

 

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A Hairy Woodpecker in my grandmother’s yard during the Vermilion CBC last Sunday,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

The Winter That Wasn’t

Wednesday morning I listened to the CBC radio show, The Current, hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti.

Wednesday’s piece in the last half hour, “The Winter that Wasn’t: Bird Migration” in Canada, was especially interesting to me. The show featured lots of great interviews, including Professor Allen Hurlbert, who talked about how climate change may affect migration; Mike Burrell who is the Ontario regional editor for eBird; and Dick Cannings, a biologist who organizes many of the Canadian bird counts.

To listen to the show and hear the story, get the podcast at the CBC website. I would highly recommend it.

And here are a list of related stories from The Current’s “Winter That Wasn’t” web page:

Where’s winter? By: Peter Hendra – Kingston Whig-Standard

When winter is more like spring, fauna and flora may suffer By: Wendy Gillis – Toronto Star

It’s balmy! Robins staying put amid mild Edmonton winter By: Marty Klinkenberg – Postmedia News

Uncommon bird observed in Okanagan By: Barbara Manning Grimm – Summerland Review

Christmas Bird Count

Today, I participated in this year’s Christmas Bird Count. I counted with two friends, and we were able to count a lot of birds.

If you don’t participate today, you still have until January 5, 2012 to be part of the CBC.

If you would like to read more about the CBC you can visit these links:

National Audubon Society 

Bird Studies Canada