Haines, Alaska. (Bruce Barrett/Flickr Creative Commons)

Haines, Alaska. (Bruce Barrett/Flickr Creative Commons)

Despite snowy weather, Skagway and Haines participated in the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count this month. Organizers say that, among the usual suspects, there were some surprises.

Elaine Furbish facilitated Skagway’s bird count.

“The weather was pretty yucky with sort of constant snow fall and not great viewing conditions,” says Furbish. “A little fog mixed in with the snow.”

In Haines, count organizer Pam Randles says the conditions were not ideal.

“It was snowing fairly hard,” says Furbish. “Not complete whiteout. But the visibility was poor. Under those conditions first of all it’s difficult to see the birds. And secondly, the birds tend to want to hide out until the weather is nicer.”

Still, both communities were able to get out and count. In Skagway, 19 people participated, 5 of which came down from Canada for the annual citizen science event. There, Furbish says the number of species identified was about average.

“We usually have somewhere in the low 30s for number of species for our count,” says Furbish. “But the actual species themselves tend to vary year-to-year. There are some that are regulars and we know we’ll have them every year like the raven and the bald eagle. And then there’s some that maybe we see every four or five years.”

The number of species was about average in Haines as well, where 30 people participated in two separate counting areas. One is near town, where the number of birds counted was below average. The other counting area is out by Mosquito Lake, where the number of birds counted was higher than average.

Both Haines and Skagway had a number of unusual sightings. Here’s Furbish in Skagway.

“This year we had some robins and two sparrows,” says Furbish. “A song sparrow and a white crown sparrow who at least so far have been able to make it through the winter.”

Furbish says they also saw good numbers of common redpolls and white wing cross bills.

“We had a family of Eurasian collared doves,” says Furbish. “Six of them recorded. And this past year was the first time that they were recorded as breeding in Skagway so it looks like they’re going to be a regular for us from here on out.”

They also had a large turnout of bohemian waxwings.

“I’m still counting them up but there will be over a thousand of them,” says Furbish. “These are birds that sometimes show up in large numbers, sometimes there are only a few. But this is a year that we had quite a nice turnout of them.”

That’s a species that Randles says Haines also saw in large numbers for the area, with just over 100. She says the area also saw an above average number of mallards and several species that are normally not around this time of year. These are just some of several species that stood out this
year. But Randles says strange sightings are not necessarily so strange anymore.

“We’ve been experiencing changes every year so yes there was some oddball things but that’s been sort of the norm in recent years,” says Randles.

Randles says in recent years the area has been seeing new birds.

“We’ve gotten some new species besides the Eurasian collared dove,” says Randles. “In the spring we’re getting blue birds going through. The hooded mergansers that were sighted this time, usually they’ve gone south long before this. So we’re getting some changes that, not surprising with climate change, but it sort of has made it difficult to say what’s normal.”

Randles says another way to get involved, especially if the weather is not ideal, is to do feeder counts at your own home.

In participating in the bird count, Haines and Skagway join thousands of communities tallying birds in their circles this season each year.