From Ketchikan to Prudhoe Bay, every year Alaskans bundle up and gather together to celebrate the holiday season by braving the elements for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
Groups of volunteers select a day between December 14, 2013 and January 5, 2014 to conduct a count. They have 24 hours to record as many birds as possible within 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. Last year there were 38 counts held across Alaska. Many counts end with a social gathering to tally lists and crow over the best birds.
The count is offered as a free event. Interested volunteers can find a count near them and sign up on the National Audubon website: www.birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count
This year, many groups will hold their counts on December 14, since the first of the count window falls on a Saturday. See the Christmas Bird Count Calendar on the Audubon Alaska website for dates and local contact details.
First organized in the Lower 48 and eastern Canada with just 27 birdwatchers in 1900, this season marks the 114th Christmas Bird Count. In Alaska, volunteers have carried out Christmas Bird Counts since before statehood, with the first counts in 1941.
“The Christmas Bird Count is a great way for volunteers of all ages, from kids to grandparents, to participate together in one of the longest running citizen-science projects in the world,” said Nils Warnock, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska. “With more than a century of data nationwide and 70 years in Alaska, this is a powerful tool that helps scientists look for changes in Alaska’s bird populations and ranges.”
There are more birds, and bird watchers, than you might expect in Alaska in the winter. On 38 counts across the state, the 1,091 observers (an Alaska record) who participated last year tallied 143 species (about the same as the five-year average) and 132,311 individual birds (a little more than the five-year average). Ketchikan recaptured the title of seeing the most species: 79, topping Kodiak’s 76 species.
Alaska Christmas Bird Counts welcome volunteers of all skill levels. For more Christmas Bird Count dates and contact information in Alaska communities, see the Christmas Bird Count Calendar on the Audubon Alaska website, or contact Beth Peluso at (907) 276-7034 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recap of last year’s 113th Christmas Bird Count:
During “Count Week”, the three days before and after the actual count, Anchorage volunteers once again spotted a Dusky Thrush, an Asian bird that had wandered far from home, but it eluded them the day of the actual count. The bird was spotted again in early December, so maybe this year it will cooperate.
New birds for Alaska counts were a Black Guillemot (a seabird that usually winters in the Bering Strait region), a Palm Warbler (a small songbird that usually winters on the coast in the Lower 48), and Western Gull (which usually doesn’t come further north than Vancouver Island).
Juneau volunteers counted 4,868 Mallards, a record high for Southeast. There was also the first Christmas Bird Count instance of a European House Sparrow outside of Ketchikan, with one reported from the Mitkof Island count.
Within Southcentral Alaska, Kodiak reached a new high count of 665 Emperor Geese, and Seward recorded 480 Barrow’s Goldeneyes (small seaducks). Cordova continues to hold the title of the only count outside of Southeast to record Eurasian Collared-Doves, with three showing up this year. Small numbers of the doves have been rapidly expanding north in Alaska in the last several years. Homer found a record 6 Great-horned Owls.
In Southwestern Alaska, King Salmon-Naknek found a White-throated Sparrow. Unalaska set new records for that part of the state for several species: 1,275 Harlequin Ducks, 315 Mew Gulls, and 2 American Tree Sparrows. At the other end of the spectrum, the count at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge had unusually low numbers of Steller’s Eiders, only 26.
In the Interior, Fairbanks reported its first Song Sparrow for the Christmas Bird Count. Further west, Shageluk reported a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which is very unusual. The Christmas Bird Count’s Alaska report states that count data seem to show nuthatches expanding where they winter in the state.
Anchorage and Fairbanks once again made the elite list of about 70 Christmas Bird Counts in the hemisphere with 100 or more participants. Anchorage broke the Alaska record for number of participants with 208 people counting, which placed it at number 11 in the rankings for the hemisphere. Fairbanks rounded up 110 counters for the day.