During this year's 104th Christmas Bird Count, Audubon scientists are highlighting the fact that many of the birds to be counted are produced in the great North American boreal forest.
At the close of the count, Audubon will analyze the population status and trends of the birds that breed in the boreal forests to see how these species are faring. Boreal species that appear to be declining that have been commonly seen on Christmas Bird Counts include belted kingfisher, northern flicker, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, purple finch, pine siskin, and especially rusty blackbird. With the exception of the northern flicker and purple finch, these birds are regular visitors to the Kenai Peninsula throughout the year.
This year's count for the Soldotna area will be on Jan. 3. Birders wanting to join the count should meet between 8 and 9 a.m. at Kaladi Bros. Coffee House in Soldotna. Birding can commence anytime after midnight for the day of the count, meaning people skilled at calling and identifying owls can get started. The birding parties usually bird until dusk or until weather, as has been the case in the past, limits the parties' ability to be productive and successful.
All counts take place within a 15-mile diameter circle. For the Soldotna count, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna serves as its historical center.
Some of the species of this area that make the count interesting are the very abundant bald eagles that tend to roost about the Kenai Peninsula Land Fill, along with a surprising diversity of gulls. A large number of common ravens and black-billed magpies also are observed in the same types of environments.
Last year, for the first time, we had many northwestern crows settled in the region for the winter. These raucous cousins of the raven normally hang about the port towns of Homer and Seward, but perhaps because of the unseasonably warm winter we had last year, they found Soldotna to be more hospitable for once. And although this looks more like a classic winter, the crows have been seen again lingering about the supermarket parking lots.
Look to find a large flock of bohemian waxwings again this year decimating the mountain ash trees of their showy berries throughout the neighborhoods of Soldotna. These birds are more identifiable from afar because of their classic flocking behavior; moving as a large, dark cloud from tree to tree when disturbed. Up close, they present a very stunning, sleek crest and bright, yellow-tipped tail.
With the Kenai River continuing to stay ice-free, we may again have a variety of ducks and waterbirds moving up and down the waterway. Mergansers and mallard ducks tend to be in the majority, however, common and Barrow's goldeneye and an occasional American widgeon or green-winged teal are known to dabble along the river course.
Anyone with a feeder in the area is familiar with the busy boreal and black-capped chickadees. There is also an abundance of pine siskin and the red and yellow of the pine grosbeak. Another regular to the feeder is the red-breasted nuthatch. This little blue, white and rosy colored bird is built low and likes to hug the bark of trees looking for small insects but is also of fan of seeds. The frequent trips that one nuthatch can make to a feeder makes one soon realize that this marauder must have a pretty healthy store of seeds somewhere out in the woods.
With the Amazon rainforest and Siberian taiga, Alaska and Canada's boreal forest is one of the three largest remaining unspoiled forests on earth. At 1.3 billion acres, it is 13 times the size of California. Alaska and Canada's boreal is a global treasure boasting some of the planet's largest populations of woodland caribou, wolves, lynx and grizzly bears. Alaska and Canada's boreal also provides nesting grounds for as many as one-third (five billion) of our continent's songbirds.
Three-fourths of the continent's waterfowl rely on the boreal for some part of their annual life cycle. Alaska and Canada's boreal holds more freshwater in wetlands, lakes and rivers than any place on earth.
Globally, the boreal also constitutes the world's largest storehouse of carbon, making it one of the Earth's most important defenses against global warming.
Even if you don't happen to be a birder or just aren't able to participate in this year's count, you can be involved through the Bird Counts' Web site: www.audubon. org/bird/cbc. Here you can get information on every bird count ever done in the Soldotna area or anywhere in the world where a bird count has been conducted going back 104 years!
Also, there are many more pages dedicated to bird conservation, science, and identification.
Bird watching and birding of any kind in the winter in Alaska offer all of us a great way to occupy our thoughts and provide a fun excuse for getting out and tromping around in the woods or watching the world along the river. 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.
Adults wanting to participate are asked to come prepared for a day outdoors. Proper clothing, good binoculars and an appropriate bird book for the area are essentials. Most people drive much of the count, with short periods of walking and exploring. Skis and snowshoes may be helpful, especially this year!
If, for some reason, eager participants can't make it into the meeting place on the morning of Jan. 3, it is important that they contact the Soldotna Bird Compiler, Jack Sinclair, prior to the Bird Count date at 262-7817. There is a $5 fee per adult participant over 18.
Anyone who participates as a "feeder watcher" just staying home with their feeders and counting the feathered visitors does not have to pay.
Jack Sinclair, a guest contributor to the Refuge Notebook, is the Soldotna area compiler for the Christmas Bird Count and works as a district ranger for Alaska State Parks. He has been a Kenai Peninsula resident for 19 years.
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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge Web site at http://kenai.fws.gov.
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