The lack of snow this winter made it easy for a group of Chilkat Valley residents to count birds during the 2014 Audubon Christmas Bird Count in December. The warmer than average season also means some unusual birds were spotted.
This was the 115th year of the national bird count and the seventh year the Haines area has participated. Organizer Pam Randles of Takshanuk Watershed Council says she had the highest number yet of volunteers flocking to help during the one-day event. 44 volunteers spent Dec. 27 recording sightings of nearly 5,000 birds and 50 different species.
Randles says there were a large number of commonly seen birds counted – like redpolls, siskins, crossbills and juncos. She attributes that to a plethora of food those species like.
“There was a huge pollen year for the spruce trees this year,” Randles said. “And then a huge bunch of [pine]cones so the little guys that eat those cones were here in huge numbers…the numbers this year were relatively phenomenal.”
With large numbers of those birds, Randles says there were also a high number of raptors counted this year. Raptors feed on the little birds that were sticking around to enjoy the cones.
Randles says there were several species spotted that shouldn’t be here this time of year. This is the first year an Anna’s Hummingbird (pictured above) has stayed near Haines this late into the winter. Rufus Hummingbirds are not uncommon to the area, but according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this is the farthest north the Anna’s variety has been spotted after December.
“And so I finally called Audubon and said ‘Why do we have hummingbirds in the middle of the winter?’ And apparently their range is expanding and they migrate not by food availability but by daylight and other factors.”
Randles says during the count there were other odd sightings, like an Arctic tern. But to make that official, avian experts want to see photo proof. Randles says the Anna’s Hummingbird is the only one that’s been captured on film.
Randles says this year’s count also illustrates some trends are continuing – like the expanding range of the Eurasian collared dove. She says the species normally has a range south of the Chilkat Valley but was first spotted in Haines six years ago.
Last year, a pair of doves wintered in Haines near Young Road. This was the first year they were officially recorded in the bird count. Randles says the continued presence of the doves support the idea that the birds’ range is expanding north with climate change.
“They’ve been moving north and west for the last 100 years,” Randles said. “Their home territory is very much like the weather we have normally, not this winter but the normal weather that we have. So for them to start moving in is not surprising. But they are an exotic species and technically they’re invasive. But they will do well here and they got as far as Delta this year.”
Randles says the bird count in the Chilkat Valley is a piece of a larger puzzle; that the range for many species is steadily moving north with warmer temperatures.
“Things are changing. Definitely things are changing.”
While the bird count is only one day, Randles keeps track of wildlife and bird sightings throughout the year on the Takshanuk Watershed Council Website. She has more information and photos of the Anna’s Hummingbird on the Takshanuk site. She recently took in an injured king fisher that a fisherman found at boat harbor.