According to Jack Sinclair local Superintendent for Alaska State Parks, over 20 intrepid bird watchers of all ages participated in the Soldotna Christmas Bird Count (CBC) that was conducted on December 17th. "The count goes back over a century when they did the first count and made a self prescribed circle of about 15 miles in diameter to count all the birds you could see within that radius during a single day. Our count goes back to early 1980's when they started the count here for the Audubon Society and the center of the Soldotna Bird Count Circle was the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. This year a few of the birders in our area agreed that it would be a good idea to change the circle, so we applied and were granted approval to change the center about 4 miles due west of the KNWR headquarters which allows the edges of the circle to now take in the entire mouth of the Kasilof River and the entire mouth of the Kenai River which before wasn't included," Sinclair told the Dispatch.
The inclusion of these prime birding areas and the mild weather attributed to a record count for this year with 40 bird species that equated to several thousand individual birds being tallied. "Some of the distinguishing characteristics of the count include 458 Bald Eagles, serving as the highest number ever counted for the Soldotna CBC. New species reported included a White-winged Scoter; a Common Murre, a Great Grey Owl and a Common Loon," reported Sinclair.
For the second year in a row a confirmed sighting by David Wartinbee of a Townsend solitaire in the same location as last year was reported, "In addition to the Robin which was added as new species last year and now we have multi-birds for both species so we are seeing some things happening, one; we have more ornamental fruit bearing trees being grown in the area which draw the fruit eating birds and also we are having milder weather and that helps the fruitavore winter over here. Additionally, this time of year we normally have a lot of sea ice at the mouths of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers which keeps many species further south, but this year was very open and accounts for the Common Murre and Loon sightings," commented bird expert Toby Burke of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Ken Tarbox, of the Keen-Eye birders participated again in this years CBC and said it was a remarkable year, "We had a great day and our group had 18 species which was almost half of all that were observed this year so that's a very good day with lots of neat birds but more importantly we had fun," said Tarbox. The sighting of another Townsend Solitaire this year doesn't necessarily indicate that a mating pair are present in the area according to Tarbox, "I would doubt that but suggest that it's more just chance right now that we had two show up, but who knows? This is the nice thing about the CBC where you come out and do this every year you start to see these things and we may be seeing a trend here starting and over the next 5 to 10 years we'll be able to document whether we're growing bird abundance with the more rare species," he said. The Keen-eye birders meet monthly and everyone interested is welcome, you can get more information about coming events and film nights at www.kenaibirdfest.com . The spring festival is planned for May, 2012 and the next winter citizen scientist birding event will be a four day event during the Presidents Day weekend in February according to Toby Burke. More information is available online as well or contact Ken Tarbox of the Keen-eye birders or Toby Burke at KNWR.