Many birders look forward to Annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). During a CBC you can watch birds in pretty much anyway you want. You can curl up on the couch and watch birds through the window, take a walk, go snowmobiling, ski, snowshoeing, or join a group of other birders in the area. CBCs are flexible and enjoyable, appealing to a variety of people. And best of all, the counts take place everywhere across North America. For those interested, it’s often easy to find a nearby count to participate in.
If there is no count nearby, and you are interested in starting one, the first thing to do is contact your local bird club. Don't get the wrong idea; organizing a count is neither easy nor hard. It is as difficult as you want it to be! This is my second year organizing a Christmas Bird Count. I lead the CBC for Tagish, a community in the Yukon. It is a lot of fun, and I love seeing the results after collecting all of the sheets. The first thing I did was set up a count area in Tagish with the Yukon Bird Club. Tagish is the community I live in, so I am familiar enough with the area to organize and lead a count there. Then I started looking for people interested in taking part. I made Feeder Watcher sheets and Group Member sheets, and then gave sheets to all interested in participating. Participation was low the first year, as I wanted to get used to leading the count before I took on a lot of people. More people participated the second year, and I spent a lot of time during the morning of the count running around to make sure I had everything for the group.
The first year I had eight houses participate as Feeder Watchers, counting birds that come to their bird feeders. There were six group members, not counting myself. Group members met up at the Tagish Bridge, which is the center of our count circle. It was overcast and chilly, with the temperature averaging at about -20 Celsius. While there, we observed a flock of Common Mergansers and a Bald Eagle. We were also able to watch a pair of river otters running on the ice across the river. After birding around the Tagish Bridge, we headed off for the Tagish Dump, the best spot to find Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies. Our next stop was California Beach. While we were there we counted more Common Mergansers and saw a Ruffed Grouse fly across the road. We also went birding in Secret Valley near the edge of the count circle, where we found two Common Ravens.
That year, the Christmas Bird Count ended with a total of 13 species. Highlights included 23 Common Mergansers, 10 Mountain Chickadees and 1 Bald Eagle. Participation increased the following year, December 2010. Ten households volunteered to feeder watch, and fourteen group members (not including me) counted birds in various locations within the circle. The group members met at the Tagish Bridge. It was overcast with a few light flurries, a slight breeze and a temperature averaging at about -20 Celsius. This year the river was frozen. We were not given a chance to be disappointed with the weather conditions or the frozen river, for when we arrived at the bridge, a Northern Goshawk glided lazily and low across the river. Then a Northern Shrike was identified sitting at the top of a distant pine before it took flight. After checking off other birds in the area, including Red Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak, we split up into three groups. The group I led went to California Beach, another group went to Tagish Dump, and the third went up Microwave Road (a road heading up a mountain to the Tagish Radio Tower). At California Beach we discovered seven Common Goldeneyes foraging in an open stretch of water. The group at the dump counted the Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies, while the group that went up Microwave Road found a ptarmigan. It was either a Willow or Rock Ptarmigan, but it could not be positively identified. The group ended the day with a gathering at my house for snacks and hot drinks.
We wrapped up the CBC with a total of 17 species. The highlights were 2 Northern Goshawks, 7 Common Goldeneyes, 1 Northern Shrike, and 6 Mountain Chickadees. Chickadee counts were low across the Yukon that winter. The cause for the chickadee decline is not yet known. The finch count was high across the Yukon due to the seed crop produced in the previous year. Red and White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks showed the highest numbers.
The Christmas Bird Count is an event I look forward to during the winter, since most birding events and walks occur during the migration periods in spring and fall. It gives me an opportunity to get out in the fresh air when I might not otherwise. I highly encourage everyone who likes to take part in these sort of events to participate, as it is a rewarding experience. The Christmas Bird Counts contribute important winter bird data, such as population trends, and the movements of different species. It is a very important part of bird science and study, so participants are always welcome. You do not have to be an expert birder to take part, you only have to be able to identify the common birds that come to your feeders.