Birders of a feather count together

Posted: Friday, January 03, 2003

"Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, nor night keeps them from accomplishing their appointed courses..."

-- Herodotus, 485-425 B.C.

It may sound like the motto for the U.S. Postal Service, but it aptly applied to those who contributed to the Audubon Society's 103rd annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) -- the longest continuously running wildlife survey in the world. More than 55,000 volunteers took part in the event in all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, South and Central America and a few Pacific islands.

Participants in the central peninsula's count met at Kaladi Brothers Coffee Company early on the morning of Dec. 21 for instructions and to coordinate counting parties. Most of the volunteers have been the same few people in recent years, so there was a lot of story swapping and reminiscing over the coffee and maps.

Soldotna Christmas Bird Count Results

Species 2002 2001 2000

Mallard 93 95 117

Common goldeneye 44 2 103

Barrow's goldeneye 21 0 0

Common merganser 50 2 21

Red-breasted

merganser 22 0 58

Bald eagles 143 229 164

Glaucous-winged

gull 721 35 463

Glaucous gull 1 1 8

Mew gull 0 11 2

Herring gull 0 0 3

Spruce grouse 0 cw 2

Rock dove 7 46 19

Great horned owl 2 1 1

Northern hawk owl 0 0 cw

Downy woodpecker 2 2 1

Hairy woodpecker 2 6 1

Northern three-toed

woodpecker 3 6 0

Gray jay 8 27 3

Black-billed magpie 43 78 36

Common raven 328 270 224

Northwestern crow 45 0 0

Black-capped

chickadee 48 217 21

Boreal chickadee 14 44 4

Red-breasted

nuthatch 6 27 1

Brown creeper 2 2 1

American dipper 0 1 1

Dark-eyed (slate-

colored) junco 1 3 0

Pine grosbeak 19 32 5

White-winged

crossbill 41 6 16

Common redpoll 39 325 61

Hoary redpoll 0 cw 0

Pine siskin 200 76 0

Bohemian waxwing 13 0 0

Northern shrike 1 0 2

Northern harrier 1 0 0

Sharp-shinned hawk 1 0 0

Golden-crowned

kinglet 0 4 0

Song sparrow 0 0 1

White-winged

sparrow 0 0 2

Total species

(on count day) 30 26 28

Total individuals 1,920 1,548 1,341

The group rendezvoused there again in the afternoon to further share what they had seen after the day's work had been completed, and to warm up from the the below freezing counting weather.

"It was great to see a northern three-toed woodpecker," said volunteer Ken Marlow. "It's fairly rare and people will come from all over to try and see one."

Ken and his wife Judy Marlow have participated in the CBC since 1999. Ken first developed his interest in birds as a boy growing up in northern Minnesota. Birding developed into a life long hobby for him which he has shared with his wife and their two children.

"We like birding because of the antics of the birds, their intelligence and their beauty," Ken said. "It's a very inexpensive activity and can be done anywhere in the world. No matter where you travel you can still enjoy birding."

The Marlows know from first-hand experience about traveling to see birds. Through their business, Marlow's On The Kenai, they offer bird and wildlife viewing trips to those just getting started as well as truly expert birders who are very serious about adding to their life list of birds.

"We usually see a lot of birds, but not a lot of diversity," said organizer Jack Sinclair of the annual Christmas count. He took over the Soldotna count in 1999, but he's been involved with the Seward count for even longer.

"The weather has been great so we had some unique things like open water," Sinclair said referring to many bodies of water typically frozen at this time, but weren't due to the late season warm temperatures. "I was hoping to get a dipper down at Soldotna Creek. I waited awhile, but none showed up."

The absence of the dipper didn't dampen his optimism though. There were many new species observed this year and high numbers seen for previously reported species.

"This was a booming year for crossbills," Sinclair said. "It's been 10-12 years since I've seen this many, so their population has definitely bounded back."

Sinclair also had to submit rare bird documentation forms for a northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, and northwestern crows.

"The crows amazed everyone. Five years ago you would have to go to Ninilchik to see them," he said.

Not all species were seen in high numbers. The bald eagle population was lower than in recent years. The borough landfill south of Soldotna usually contains dense numbers of eagles, gulls, and ravens. This year only 143 eagles were seen, down from 229 last year.

"The eagles were stressed by all the high water," said David Wartinbee, a count volunteer and a university ecologist professor with more than 20 years experience. He believes the recent floods throughout the peninsula affected their normal hunting schedule. Rivers were running too high and too fast for them to effectively feed on spawning salmon.

"On the upper Killey they were feeding on late season silvers just last week," he said.

The Soldotna count encompasses a circle 15 miles in diameter with the center being the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The results of the count will be added to others from around the world.

"Where is what they're looking at now," Sinclair said. "Why will follow later."

His statement referred to the way monitoring bird populations is used by conservation biologists.

In the 1980s CBC data were used to document the decline of wintering populations of American black duck, after which measures were taken to reduce hunting pressure in order to conserve the species.



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