For 114 years avid amateur ornithologists all over North America have anticipated the Christmas season for more than just festive trees and gifts, more than just carols and lavish turkey dinners … it’s also time for the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
Today a handful of local enthusiasts in communities throughout the Greater Trail area will be breaking out their binoculars and heading out to tally up their feathered friends.
The results are sent to Bird Studies Canada to be added to counts from across Canada, the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
“I cover the Trail area which goes from around Walmart out to Genelle,” said local birder, Shirley Coffin.
“I’ll go down to the Esplanade to get a count of the ducks and geese, then to the landfill for the crows, ravens, and turkeys. I try to cover around Waneta and Glenmerry.
“But there aren’t many of us. I have one helper in Trail and someone I call in Genelle and I call a number of people who have bird feeders and ask them for a count.
“It’s a bit of a guesstimate,” she added.
Christmas bird counts are held each year on any one-day period between December 14 and January 5. Areas under study by the birders are divided into 20 kilometre “circles” that stay the same from year to year to try to get an accurate survey of the number of particular species in each area.
Linda Szymkowiak, the lead counter in Rossland, has been interested in birds since she was a child and her circle extends from from Paterson to the Strawberry Pass.
“In Rossland if we see 30 species it’s a good count,” she said. “A lot of it depends on the weather conditions, if the fog descends it gets tougher and snow cover can be a problem.”
Szymkowiak says she has noticed fewer numbers over the years that she’s been involved in the CBC and that the annual count is a valuable tool to track the environmental health of an area.
“Every year there’s more habitat destroyed, logging changes the habitat of the Varied Thrushes and the Hermit Thrushes, you don’t see as many of them,” she said. “There’s an overall decline, partly the insectivores like the barn swallows, agriculture has changed things for many species. Change the habitat and you change the birds.”
The practice of maintaining regular areas of study over a number of years provides important data for environmental studies and bird conservation efforts. Results from the CBC has been used in assessment reports that added the Western Screech-Owl, Rusty Blackbird, and the Newfoundland Red Crossbill to the Species At Risk Act lists.
For more information go to the Bird Studies Canada website at www.bsc-eoc.org or search for Christmas Bird Count on the web.