This year marked the116th-annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Earlier in January, 24 hardy birders faced rainy, icy conditions to get the local data.
Haines’ birders have been involved in the annual Audubon count for more than 20 years, and this year saw they some of the worst weather. The driving, cold rain was the reason for low numbers.
“32-mile-per-hour winds, so if I were a little songbird, I’d be hiding out.”
That’s local bird expert Pam Randles. She led the bird-counting charge and says outside of the typical ravens, eagles, gulls, and ducks, there were some unusual finds this year.
“Since 2005, when I started keeping track carefully, we’ve had a number of new species come in, and stay, and increase,” she said. “They show up on the Christmas count and then also we’ve got breeders that are coming in in the summertime that didn’t used to be here.”
One of those new species is the Eurasian collared dove. It’s a common sight in yards around Haines, but before 2007, they were unheard of in this area.
“And so things really are changing and I don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s just change.”
Two dozen volunteers counted in two areas, both spanning a 15-mile radius, around Haines and out around the Mosquito Lake area. In all, 1,660 birds were counted on Jan. 2, down about 3,500 from last year. Of the 237 species known to live in the area, 43 were noted in this year’s count.
Birders walked, drove, skied and snowshoed to avian hotspots.
The results are sent to the Audubon Society, which, along with findings from across the country, are entered into a national catalog.
“So there’s this huge database, and we’re learning a lot about climate change from this.”
Randles says that a bird’s concentrated range is determined by drawing a circle around where they are observed, and marking a dot right in the middle. That’s called the center of abundance.
“And the Audubon Society did a report a couple of years ago that showed quite a few species’ center of abundance had moved north 200 to 400 miles,” Randles said.
Locally, Randles says, she’s seen a lot of changes over the years when it comes to her feathered friends.
“But this year, for example, we had more summer species than normal. Species that are normally not here in the winter, were here. Last year that even included a hummingbird.”
The summer visitors spotted this year were belted kingfishers, varied thrushes and fox sparrows. A red-winged blackbird and an Arctic loon were also on that list of unusual finds. Randles says while different species arrive here from year to year, she hasn’t noticed any that have flown the coop and disappeared completely.
Randles says she’d like to see more locals get involved in the annual count. For those who don’t want to face the elements, people are needed to simply watch their bird feeders and count.
“Also, you can do nocturnal counts if you’re interested in owls and that sort of thing. So when it comes around next year, we’re really encouraging people to join in. First of all, it gives us more data, but it’s really fun.”
In other bird news, Randles says the mystery of the pheasants has been solved. It turns out, the pheasants spotted recently around town were domestic birds that escaped. It’s possible the escapees could breed and thrive in this area, she says, if they don’t wind up on someone’s dinner table first.