Magpie photographed at a home feeder during the 2007 Christmas Bird Count.
Twenty two adults and three children officially participated in the 108th annual Christmas Bird Count in the Soldotna-Kenai area last week. The Central Peninsula has been participating in the unique international count that includes all of Canada and Mexico since 1983 with the center of the 15 mile diameter circle being the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The local count was discontinued in 1992 and restarted in 1999 as a result of the interest of Jack Sinclair, a local birder who coordinates the event in addition to his work as Supt. of Alaska Department of State Parks, “We’ve seen the interest and participation increase each year,” says Sinclair, “It’s probably one of the best programs you can get into as far as introducing yourself to birding and becoming acquainted with the wildlife that surrounds us in the winter and not getting lost in a crowd as is typical in other locations.”
Ring Neck Pheasant hen photographed along E. Redoubt Rd., a few weeks prior to the Christmas Bird Count is categorized an unusual bird sighting.
More than 50,000 observers across North America participate each year in this all-day census of early-winter bird populations. The results of their efforts are compiled into the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of unbroken data on trends of early-winter bird populations across the Americas. Simply put, the Christmas Bird Count, or "CBC", is citizen science in action. Prior to the turn of the century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt": They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition-a "Christmas Bird Census"-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. So began the Christmas Bird Count
Locally this year’s count took place on December 29th and according to preliminary tallies 2,426 individual birds were counted of 37 different species, “We had a great turn out and beautiful weather for the count and some very interesting species sited,” reported Liz Jozwiak, environmental technician at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. New species to the count circle this year included a Boreal Owl, Rock Sandpiper, and an immature Trumpeter Swan sited on the Kenai River, “The Swan may have been late in migrating, or could be part of a small population that winters along the outlet of Skilak Lake where we’ve had a small population of swans over wintering since the early seventies and that population is increasing, with about 25-35 Trumpeters that now call the Kenai their home for the winter,” said Jozwiak.
Participants in this year’s CBC gathered at the KNWR Environmental Center for a potluck dinner and preliminary tally of the count. Toby Burke an ornithologist at the KNWR enjoyed the day with his wife and 7 children, “There are a fair amount of northern species that are not very wary of people which allows for a fair amount of close encounters with birds and I think people want to be connected with their environment and you can get close to birds by putting up a feeder and having that wildlife connection with your family,” said Burke. 10-year-old Ed Burke said that he liked watching birds all year long and during the CBC saw a Slaty-backed Gull, crow, raven, and a Magpie. A wealth of results and information about the 2007 CBC is available on the Audubon Society website by going to www.audubon.org.
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