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Counting our fine feathered friends

Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

About 25 local bird enthusiasts traded their warm sofas and News Year's football games Sunday to get outdoors and participate in the 105th Annual Christmas Bird Count. According to Elizabeth Jozwiak, Wildlife Biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the turn out was excellent and the weather not all that bad, "It wasn't the best, but we're a hardy bunch and we've been doing this count for several years now and there have been years when we've had serious blizzard conditions and high snow, so actually Sunday the weather was pretty conducive to birding for the first part of the day until we had fog later in the afternoon," said Jozwiak. This year's turn out indicates an increased interest locally in the traditional count, "We had a lot of new people come out for the first time this year, novice birders, along with several people from outside the local area showed up to participate. It was a good mix of new birders and veteran Christmas bird counters," added Jozwiak.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an early-winter nationwide bird census, where volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15 mile diameter circle counting every bird they see or hear all day. "Our 15 mile circle is centered around the Kenai Wildlife Refuge headquarters and extends out from there in a great circle covering most of Soldotna including a good stretch of the lower and middle Kenai River. We divide up areas of the road and some parts we are able to walk in and try to cover as much of that area as we can with the people who show up to participate," explained Jack Sinclair, Alaska State Parks superintendent, who organized the Soldotna count that originated in 1983. According to Sinclair it's the abundant bald eagles in the area that make the local count so interesting, "They tend to roost about the land fill, that may not be a great reason for birds to migrate but nevertheless it surpasses about any other area in Alaska as far as numbers for this time of year with the exception of Haines and it's pretty exciting to see that many eagles in one place whether it's at a dump or not, it's phenomenal" said Sinclair.

The CBC is conducted in all 50 States and Canada for the purpose of establishing trend data that can alert biologists to declining populations, "The information we gather also helps a larger effort to understand the natural world and how it reacts and changes to the many forces around it," added Sinclair.

The first CBC was done on Christmas Day 1900 as an alternative to the traditional side count which was a hunting event, "Back then they were called side counts or side hunts which entailed individuals shooting birds and determining which side or group of hunters shot the most birds. Then a fellow by the name of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, decided he'd rather count than shoot birds on the same day as an alternative and that became the Christmas Bird Count," said Jozwiak. The results of the 105th CBC in Soldotna or anywhere in North America along with information on every bird count ever done anywhere in the world over the last 104 years can be found at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.



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