High eagle count distinguishes 2012 Christmas Bird Count

It was a perfect winter’s day for 113th Christmas Bird Count in the Soldotna Circle, clear skies and moderate temperatures greeted bird counters Saturday, December 15th even though each birder only had a little over 6 hours of daylight to make their count. “It was a great day and just what we had been hoping for after all the icy overcast conditions and it made for great birding,” commented Toby Burke of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where participants reconvened for a pot-luck super to report their counts. 

Even though the local birders didn’t convene until 9:00am at Kaladi Bros. the Christmas Bird Count is not limited to daylight hours and Burke did include the sighting of an owl in the early morning hours, “It’s actually from midnight to midnight even though most folks are out only during daylight hours it is an entire twenty four hour period that is included,” he said.  According to Burke the count was good considering the two cold winter months that preceded the count this year, “We had a real dedicated group and they really beat the bush which gave us an excellent effort and that was reflected in the final count which would have been much lower with that effort,” added Burke. 

For nearly 20 years Jack Sinclair has done the official compiling of the local Christmas and this year reported, “The 113th Christmas Bird Count for the Soldotna ‘Circle’ has been completed. This year we had 14 adults and 11 children under the age of 18 participate in the count and we also had four feeder watchers providing their results.  While the count took place on Saturday, December 15th, it includes a count week that allows any species not seen on the count day to be included in the total number of species. This year, only one species was seen outside the count day; that being one Dark-eyed Junco at a feeder.  The total number of species for the count was 35; the total number of individuals was 2804.  Some of the distinguishing aspects of the count week included the sighting of five adult trumpeter swans flying over K-Beach Road and a highest count of bald eagles for our circle ever at 718, most of which were settled in around the Soldotna landfill,” said Sinclair.

Some other unusual sightings included two American Robins, “It’s a rare bird for this time of the year and it’s the third year that we’ve had it and only 3 years the last 3 out of the last 23 years we have been doing the Soldotna count has yielded them.  They’re fruit eaters and I believe their increase is due to the number of fruit bearing trees that are now growing in the area,” explained Burke. The cold weather could also explain the record high bald eagle count says Burke, “Eagle numbers in Alaska are very strong but our increase numbers in the count and at the Soldotna land fill are most likely due to the river closing up early, because as the river gets iced over the eagles become more concentrated at the dump.” For the last two years Dr. David Wartinbee had reported sighting a Townsend Solitaire in the same location, but this year a Northern Shrike was at the spot, “The Townsend Solitaire is a really rare bird and it might still be around and again they are a fruit eater and there is still some fruit available so it could be around still, but not of course at the same time as Shrike,” reported Burke. 

The first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held Christmas Day in the year 1900.  Proposed by ornithologist Frank Chapman as an alternative to the holiday bird hunt tradition, Chapman an early officer of the then budding Audubon Society the new holiday tradition of a bird census and counting birds rather than killing them soon grew in popularity and today includes all of North America, Canada and Mexico.  The first CBC had 27 original bird counters two less than the total participants in this year’s Soldotna Circle count.