Annual bird count yields a few surprises but count remains down

Some rare sightings highlighted this year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Greater Trail.

Some rare sightings highlighted this year’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

December marked the 113th edition of the annual event, which began on Dec. 15 and concluded Jan. 5.

This year more than 50 volunteers gathered to observe the region’s feathered friends.

In the Beaver Valley area south of Trail and east of the Columbia River, 35 species were observed and 858 birds were noted. In 2011, only 31 species and 814 birds were observed in that area.

This year saw 13 participants in the BV area, up from 11 last year, and more eyes may have assisted to spot more birds.

“We did have about 75 Barrows Goldeneyes on the Fruitvale settling ponds, which is unusual.” said Don McNeill, bird count volunteer.

“Although the bird itself isn’t rare.”

McNeill’s birders had an unexpected treat, when three bald eagles were spotted.

Shirley Coffin, organizer for the Trail and Genelle count, said that even though the weather was good on the day of count, there were not that many birds around.

The overall number for Greater Trail birds was down from the 2011 count, with only 31 species and 669 birds noted.

Although a city bylaw prevents people from feeding the birds, 75 rock pigeons were counted, up from only 40 noted last year.

Coffin, with a team of seven volunteers, trudged through patchy snow and observed 221 mallards and 110 common ravens. Only 110 mallards and 51 ravens were noted in 2011.

Although Coffin was pleased to note four bald eagles in the Trail area, the number may not reflect an increase of these birds to our area since the 2011 count.

Arnold By, long-time volunteer and organizer for the CBC theorized that the three bald eagles in Trail and Beaver Valley are probably the same birds; therefore the total is only four.

A rare bird that was noted in the Genelle area, is the Virginia Rail.

“It is very rare to spot this marsh bird in the winter because they migrate,” said Coffin.

“They are common in the summer months, but very unusual in December.”

With assistance from 37 counters, Rossland compiler Linda Szymkowiak noted 34 species and 930 total.

Four of the birds were purple finches, a species that is not usually found in winter counts.

Szymkowiak reported only 41 pine siskins and 45 evening grosbeaks; both numbers are less than half of what was recorded last year.

The numbers of birds counted and species observed in Greater Trail are currently being analyzed by By.

The overall number of Greater Trail birds is around three quarters of what it used to be six years ago, said By.

“Their habitat is being destroyed,” he said.

“That is the biggest problem of all for a lot of birds in the Americas.”

The Audubon has a deadline of Feb. 5, after which all the data collected can be viewed on its website, said By.

According to the Bird Studies Canada website, 12,000 Canadians bundled up to brave the elements and participate in the annual event.

More than 3,000 B.C. residents focused their binoculars to get birding for the event.

The annual bird count is the longest running-citizen science survey in the world, and the data collected by the counters is critical to study long-term health and state of bird populations.

For many years, the CBC was organized on a continental scale by the National Audubon Society.

Since 2000, Bird Studies Canada has partnered with Audubon to coordinate counts in Canada. Scientists rely on the trend data of the CBC to better understand how birds and the environment are faring throughout North America.