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In search of ‘seedy’ characters

National Audubon Society’s 106th bird count takes wing

Posted: Friday, December 16, 2005

 

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  Birders will take inventory of the local population this weekend. Likely sightings will include the Stellar's jay. Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

Birders will take inventory of the local population this weekend. Likely sightings will include the Stellar's jay.

Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

Birders of a feather are being asked to flock together this weekend for the National Audubon Society’s 106th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Each year, this all-day census of early winter bird populations involves more than 50,000 observers in all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, South and Central America and a few Pacific islands. The results 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 Western Hemisphere.

The Kenai Peninsula contributes to this data with three counts, one each in Homer, Seward and Soldotna. The Soldotna Christmas Bird Count (CBC) will take place on Sunday, encompassing a count circle 15 miles in diameter with the center being the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

“It’s not just a species tally — all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day,” said Liz Jozwiak, a wildlife biologist at the refuge.

According to Jozwiak, some of the more common birds seen during the Soldotna CBC have been the bald eagle, black-billed magpie, common raven, assorted gull species, common redpoll, pine grosbeak, pine siskin and boreal and black capped chickadee.

Some uncommon species observed during the Soldotna count in previous years have included a northern shrike, northern hawk owl and a white-crowned sparrow. Last winter after the CBC, a slaty-backed gull and an Icelandic gull were sighted at the Soldotna Landfill.

“So far this fall, several birders in Soldotna have been keeping a close watch for any cedar waxwings that might be traveling with the flocks of Bohemian waxwings that can be seen throughout the winter in the mountain ash trees near the McDonald’s and fire/police station in downtown Soldotna,” Jozwiak said.

“Toby Burke, an expert birder and new biological technician for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, started seeing a robin sitting in those mountain ash trees in town in early December,” she added.

 

Birders will take inventory of the local population this weekend. Likely sightings will include the bald eagle.

Clarion file photos

Other unusual and rarely documented species seen or verified in the last two months include a snowy owl in Soldotna and a juvenile gyrfalcon in Sterling, according to Jozwiak.

According to Jozwiak, the CBC is in many ways a relationship that is mutually beneficial to count participants, as well as the Audubon Society. Participants gain knowledge by connecting with the natural world and by taking part in a science-based activity, while Audubon’s science staff gains valuable information on those birds and habitats that need the most help.

“In the 1980s, CBC data were used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American black duck, after which conservation measures were put into effect to reduce hunting pressure on this species,” Jozwiak cited as one example.

Audubon scientists also have stated they are eager to get the results of this year’s CBC in order to determine the effects of this summer’s hurricanes on local birds along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast of the Southeastern U.S.

Jozwiak said birders, or anyone interested in participating in this year’s CBC, should meet at the Kaladi Brothers Coffee Company in Soldotna between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. so that birding groups can be assembled and observation areas assigned.

“Participants do not have to be experts, but only have a desire to get outside and look for birds. Inexperienced birders will be grouped with more seasoned CBC veterans to help familiarize them with where to go and what to look for,” she said.

The birding effort normally concludes at about 4 p.m. or when weather precludes any measurable returns.

“Each participant should dress warmly, and try to bring a good set of binoculars and a bird identification book for species most often found in Alaska. You may also want to bring a camera to document any rare or unusual sightings,” Jozwiak said.

 

Birders will take inventory of the local population this weekend. Likely sightings will include species of gulls.

Clarion file photos

Feeder watchers do not need to pay the fee, and all observers 18 and under may count for free, but there is a $5 fee per field participant over 18 years of age. These fees help to defray the cost of producing an annual CBC summary issue, and maintaining the CBC Web site and database.

“Anyone having an active bird feeder in the count area is encouraged to help. Counting the single highest number of a species at a feeder at any one time, including any unique feathered visitors, is a big help to the count,” Jozwiak said.

Also, Jozwiak asked that anyone that comes across a chickadee or other bird with a deformed bill (upward, elongated and/or curved) report it to the refuge by calling 262-7021. “This information will contribute to an important regional study on the causes of bill deformities in southern Alaska,” she said.

For more information on Audubon’s 106th annual Christmas Bird Count, contact Liz Jozwiak at the Refuge at 260-2818 or Jack Sinclair at Alaska State Parks at 262-5581.



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