The popularity of bird watching has soared in recent years, but observing birds in below freezing temperatures isn't for everyone.
However, for the participants of the recent Audubon Society's 104th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), it was worth enduring the bitter cold and biting wind.
"Our eagle count might be the highest count circle in the nation," said count organizer Jack Sinclair.
This year's bald eagle count totaled 246 birds, of which 69 were immature and a whopping 177 were adults compared to last year's bald eagle count of 143 birds.
Most were counted at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Landfill in Soldotna, where large numbers of eagles, gulls, ravens and magpies congregate at this time of year.
"Homer has been the historical high count in Alaska in the past," Sinclair said.
"There used to be a lot of eagles feeding down on the spit, but that has recently tapered off, so their numbers may be lower this year."
Sinclair said he won't know for certain if Soldotna has the highest count in the nation for a few more months, since a computer glitch is keeping this year's CBC data from being entered into the main database.
Even if Soldotna doesn't end up with the highest count, Sinclair said he will still be pleased with the numbers they saw.
"Nevertheless, we had a very high count of bald eagles, and it's just phenomenal to see them congregate like that," he said.
With the exception of the eagle numbers, Sinclair said this year's count was actually a little low overall.
"This year we only counted 22 species and 607 individuals," he said. This is down from last year's 30 species and 1,920 individuals.
"I think the weather really hampered this year's count," Sinclair said. "We had temperatures hovering between minus 2 and 8 degrees so it wasn't exactly a warm day. Snow depth was about 3 feet so there wasn't much tromping around on foot. The lack of open water also was a tremendous limiting factor."
As a result of these weather conditions a lot of birds were likely sitting tight or visiting feeders, he said. Many birds rely on suet and seed to survive the harsh winter months.
Besides Sinclair, eight other dedicated birders participated in this year's CBC, including: Chris Degernes, Bill Shuster, David Wartinbee, Linda Story, Conrad Kilmer, Joe Hardy, Jim Kuhns-man and David Eason.
"I expected perhaps a few more people, but we had enough skilled birders to still manage the count," said Sinclair.
The Soldotna count encompasses a circle 15 miles in diameter with the center being the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More than 50,000 observers in all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, South and Central America and a few Pacific islands, participate each year in this all-day census of early-winter bird populations.
The CBC is the longest continuously running wildlife survey in the world.
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