2015 Christmas Bird Count and CBC4Kids

The 26th annual Vermilion Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19th. I’m the president for our local Naturalist Society this year, so I organized the count, made sure we had field counters for each of the quadrants, and also tried to publicize the count in the local papers to encourage more feeder counters and let the community know to expect birders walking around. We had a total of 29 field counters and nine feederwatchers.

My friend Sharon picked me up at 9 am and we drove around our part of the NW Quadrant, stopping at farmyards along the way, checking to see if there were any birds at feeders or in the mature spruce trees surrounding the yards. Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies, and Common Ravens were our most seen species, but the Common Redpolls were the most abundant — we saw over 400 in just under two hours.

At 11:30 am we headed to my grandmother’s acreage to see what was at her feeders. We enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate and ate Christmas baking while looking out her kitchen windows. We added two Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers to our list. Three Blue Jays fed from the peanut ring that my grandmother put out.

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One of the Blue Jays checking out the peanut feeder,IMG_9982 IMG_9983

A male Hairy Woodpecker,IMG_9988

A White-breasted Nuthatch also made a brief appearance,IMG_9997

This year, I organized the second annual Vermilion CBC4Kids in the Vermilion Provincial Park. Sharon dropped me off at home and I drove to town for the CBC4Kids starting at 1 pm. We had seven kids, six parents, and one novice adult birder come out for birding in the park. I talked about the possible species we could see and explained more about the Christmas Bird Count, then we started walking the trails.

A reporter from the one of the local newspapers joined us to cover the CBC4Kids just before we started our walk. Thanks for coming out, Shannon, and for the great article, which I hope encourages other families and young birders to come out. 

Two junior birders, photo courtesty of Shannon O’Connor, The Vermilion Voice.

Two junior birders (photo courtesty of Shannon O’Connor, The Vermilion Voice)

We looked for the large flocks of finches that had been previously reported in the spruce trees, but all we saw for winter finches were two Common Redpolls. Black-capped Chickadees were the most abundant on the walk and one particular bird came very close to the group, so everyone got a good look.

Other than birds, we found snowshoe hare tracks, various bird nests, a willow where a porcupine had stripped the bark off the top branches, and a bunch of trembling aspens that beavers chopped down in the summer or fall and left behind.

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After a climb up a fairly steep hill, we caught our breath and got a group photo,IMG_1450

We finished the walk having traveled over two kilometres and seen six species. Even though the kids were a little tired after the long walk, they all had a good time. I’m looking forward to next year’s CBC4Kids, and think I might lead a walk for beginning adult birders who can’t commit to a whole/half day of counting, but would like to learn more about the wintering birds in Vermilion.

Here’s our list of species from the CBC4Kids walk:

Blue Jay — 1

Black-billed Magpie — 2

Common Raven — 2

Black-capped Chickadee — 38

Bohemian Waxwing  — 35

Common Redpoll — 2

There’s always a CBC potluck supper in town where everyone shares stories from the day, and our compiler tallies the count numbers. From the regular count and the CBC4Kids, counters saw a total of 4,340 individual birds of 41 species, a new record on both counts. Two of the species — a Cooper’s Hawk and a Northern Saw-Whet Owl — were new additions for the count and were both seen in the NE Quadrant.

Christmas Bird Counts around North America run up until January 5th — CBCs are excellent ways to meet other birders in your area as well as to add some new winter species to your list.

:: Find more CBC4Kids events here

:: Find CBC events across Canada here

:: Find CBC events across the U.S here

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.

CBCABList2015

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:

Christmas Bird Count for Kids/CBC4Kids

In 2007, Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie of Sonoma Birding created the Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids).

Since the first count in California seven years ago, the event has become very successful across the United States, and in 2010 Bird Studies Canada joined Sonoma Birding as a proud Canadian Partner.

The CBC4Kids is a family-friendly winter bird count where participants learn about common winter birds in the area, and help identify and count birds for North America’s important winter bird census. The events around the country help promote appreciation and awareness for birds and nature.

Here’s the map of all the CBC4Kids events in Canada. You can find more information for each event here,

CBC4Kidsmap

Earlier this month, Liza Barney from Bird Studies Canada emailed to ask if I would be able/interested to hold a CBC4Kids event for my area. I excitedly said yes and started planning right away. I made up this poster and am hoping for a number of kids and parents on the walk,

VRNSCBC4Kidsposter2.0

If you, or someone you know, is interested in organizing and leading a Christmas Bird Count for Kids, contact:
In Canada: Bird Studies Canada, education@birdscanada.org
In the US : Sonoma Birding, sonomanature@gmail.com

More on the CBC4Kids:

:: CBC4Kids Facebook Group

:: CBC4Kids on NPR Radio BirdNote

:: CBC4KIDS at the eBird Young Birders Network

:: Use the hashtag #CBC4Kids on Twitter

Feathers on Friday

This White-breasted Nuthatch was at my grandparents’ yard during the local Christmas Bird Count last Saturday,

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(That’s my grandmother’s suet/peanut butter mixture in the recycled plastic ice cream container)

Gorgeous Grosbeaks!

Pine Grosbeaks are back in large numbers and were prevalent during our local CBC yesterday in all of the count circles. The Pine Grosbeaks is one of the largest finches and can be found on all over Alberta, all other Canadian Provinces, and the northern and central United States. Their robust size and their beautiful flute-like song is a wonderful addition to the Alberta winter landscape.

A map of the Pine Grosbeak’s map range, from Cornell,

PineGrosbeakCornell

All of the Pine Grosbeak photos in this post were taken at my grandparents’ yard yesterday during the local Christmas Bird Count. The most grosbeaks I counted at one time were 12, and three of them were adult males.

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A female or juvenile,

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My grandparents filled this tray with sunflower seeds, which the grosbeaks really enjoy,

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The males are so beautiful, and when the sun hit them they were even prettier,

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