Local Christmas Bird Count a holiday tradition

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010

Whether it's by snow machine, by boat, on skis, by car, on foot, or simply in a chair monitoring a bird feeder, for the next few weeks Alaskans across the state will celebrate the season by participating in Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count. Volunteers will put their binoculars to work in approximately 37 counts in Alaska.

Groups of volunteers select a day between Dec. 14, 2010, and Jan. 5, 2011, to conduct a count. They have 24 hours to record as many birds as possible in a 15-mile diameter circle. Volunteers participate in counts in all 50 states, in all Canadian provinces, several Central and South American countries, and several Pacific and Caribbean islands.

"The Christmas Bird Count volunteers provide invaluable information about the state of Alaska's birds," said Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska. "Long-term records help identify which species are declining, increasing or shifting geographically."

In past years, the count has revealed American Robins wintering further north (they are now found on the Anchorage count) as are Black-billed Magpies (which are now found on the Fairbanks count). Last year was the first time Eurasian Collared-Doves appeared during the Christmas count in Alaska, showing up in Juneau and Petersburg.

First organized in the Lower 48 and eastern Canada with just 27 birdwatchers in 1900, this season marks the 111th Christmas Bird Count. In Alaska, volunteers have carried out Christmas Bird Counts since before statehood.

The earliest Alaska counts were in Anchorage and Mountain Village in 1941. Clayton Pollard, a high school senior, conducted the first count in Anchorage, tallying six species. In Mountain Village, Henry Kyllingstad found five species. A decade later, the counts started spreading around the state. In Southeast, the tradition reaches back more than four decades, although the early counts were sporadic. Juneau had the earliest count, in 1967, followed by the first Petersburg/Mitkof Island count in 1968. Barrow held a count in 1975, but recorded zero birds. This year marks the 50th count for Fairbanks.

Last year, more than 1,000 Alaskans joined the Christmas Bird Count, tallying a record 146 species statewide. However, the 120,488 individual birds counted were well below the average for the previous five years. Ketchikan counted 82 species, the highest total in the state. Juneau found 72 species. In some places, birds were scarce, but determined volunteers still ventured out: Nome counted four species, and Prudhoe Bay found one species - the Common Raven.

For more Christmas Bird Count dates and local contacts in Alaska communities, click on the calendar on the Audubon Alaska website at ak.audubon.org/events/2121, or contact Beth Peluso at 907-276-7034 or bpeluso@audubon.org.

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