January 10th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 2
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Crowsnest Pass Christmas Bird Count shows stable numbers
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
ANNA KROUPINA
Pass Herald Reporter
Weather was mild, wind was weak, but enthusiasm was aplenty at the Crowsnest Pass Christmas Bird Count, as birders, conservationists and outdoor lovers gathered at the beginning of January to spot as many birds as they can.

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual activity coordinated by Bird Studies Canada, which outlines the rules under which each count needs to be run. Counts are conducted within a standardized count circle of a 24-kilometre diameter and the same centre point must be used each year.

Counts are organized locally and are run by volunteers all over North America, the Pacific Islands, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The official count period this year was from December 14 and January 5, inclusive. Participating regions coordinated a count week and a count day in that timeframe. On the count day, participants identify and count each individual bird they see, while on count week, which is three days before and three days following the count day, participants record only the number of species they see.

The counts are a form of “citizen science” where volunteers take the initiative to organize and spearhead the activity.

For the Christmas Bird Count, the information is then compiled by each region and sent to the National Audubon Society, a non-profit environmental and conservation organization. The data, which can be accessed by anyone on the Audubon website, is used to determine trends on a continental scale and used to supplement other studies that have done in a specific region.

The crowdsourcing data gathering has been conducted since December 25, 1900.

In Crowsnest Pass, Crowsnest Conservation organizes counts and this was the 12th year the count was held. The center of the Crowsnest Pass count circle is the 4-way stop in Blairmore and the area covered runs west to Crowsnest Lake and east to Burmis.
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According to one of the organizers of the bird count Pat Lucas, this year’s results showed “fairly stable” numbers in bird species compared with the past few years.

“We have a lot of turkeys, a lot of dipper on the river. We get a lot of Clark’s Nutcrackers. This year we also had a really pretty bird called evening grosbeak. A lot of people, once they notice it, they think of a parrot. We had quite a lot of those this year. That’s a rarity for us,” says Lucas.

In Crowsnest Pass, the most common type of bird spotted was the common redpoll, followed closely by the black-capped chickadee and mountain chickadee. The official bird of Alberta, the majestic great horned owl, was also spotted once.

Twenty people participated in this year’s Crowsnest Pass Christmas Bird Count day, which, according to Lucas, is quite a great turnout. Locals came out, but also people from Beaver Mines, Lethbridge and Fernie.

The more volunteers participate in a bird count, the more accurate the results.

Metropolitan centres like Edmonton or Lethbridge attract a much bigger crowd - some 100 to 200 people respectively - watching for birds in a circle of the same diameter as in Crowsnest Pass.

In Crowsnest Pass, Lucas says the group does the best count they can with the amount of people that show up.

“We’re more about just getting out there. We had a great time and a great lunch after at Country Encounters,” she says. “It was just a fun thing to do.”

Weather is a large factor in the success or disaster of bird counting, so count day’s high of -7 degrees Celsius that hit just days after a severe cold snap certainly worked in the group’s favour.

“The absolute worst thing for bird watching is a lot of wind,” says Lucas. “Some birds are adapted to being out in the wind and they nest in the yard, but most birds, when it’s really windy, they don’t come out. They stay under cover. It’s also the worst for the people in the field,”
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Waterton Bird Count

In Waterton, the 20 volunteers weren’t so lucky with the weather on their Christmas Bird Count day, which took place on December 15, with high winds blowing about, making it difficult to hear and spot birds.

According to Dianne Pachal, co-coordinator of this count, they counted the lowest number of species throughout the entire count week, at 21. This is compared to 45, which was the highest count. There are 37 known resident bird species in the area during winter.

The Kenow Wildfire ripped through Waterton National Park this summer may seem an obvious culprit for the low count, but Pachal says there were other significant variables at play.

“This year, because of the fire, the Akamina Parkway was not open so there was a whole set of habitats that we couldn’t survey that we normally do. Other big variables were the weather and number of participants. We had a good number of participants, but poor weather,” she says.

Interesting sightings this year were a trumpeter swan, the biggest waterfowl native to North America, red-necked grebe and a western grebe, which are quite rare to see in the area. Ravens were the most common sighting in the Waterton area.

“I think that’s part of the reason people come out,” says Pachal. “You never know what you can find.”

Other bird counts will be held in Waterton that, together, may provide a more accurate picture of avian in the area and how, or whether, the wildfire affected their habitat and species numbers. There’s the Wateron Spring Bird Count in May and in June, a Breeding Bird Count is held.

How to participate

There is no need to have a background in ornithology to participate in a bird count, just a love of being outdoors and an interest in birds and. A keen eye helps, of course!

Volunteers with strong bird backgrounds are always present and team up with birders who may be more “green.”

“Individuals that participate are either interested in birds and just like looking at them, and other people are more interested in conservation and supplying data for that. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why you participate,” says Lucas.

“It’s a fun way of getting involved in the landscape that you live in, and then you get hooked,” says Pachal.

The next bird count for Crowsnest Pass is scheduled for the end of May. Interested participants can visit the Crowsnest Conservation Society’s website or Facebook page for additional information and details about the spring bird count.
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January 10th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 2
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