The National Audubon Society keeps track of bird data collected by citizen scientists across the Americas in the annual Christmas Bird Count, and uses this information to assess the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation action.
On Seward”s Count Day, Saturday, December 22, 2012, twenty-eight Field Counters, including two young birders and three Boat Crew, birded the Seward Circle from 9 to 4 pm. Another seven Feeder Counters kept vigil at their often lonely feeders. The Tonsina Trail Route was covered this year, as well as the Iditarod Trail, and out to mile 2 on Exit Glacier Road.
For the land counters, the day remained mostly calm and overcast with brief afternoon snow flurries. The boat crew, however, birded in seas to 3 feet with a north wind up to 17 mph. Overall, the lack of precipitation and minimal snow made conditions quite enjoyable for walking and biking despite the cold temperatures ranging from 0 to 15º.
The Seward Count Day species was down considerably to 52, but Count Week added 9 species resulting in 71 species. The 2011 CBC had a more usual 61 Count Day species but only 6 Count Week species totaling 67 species. Overall numbers, thanks to the White-winged Crossbill boom of 510 birds, were higher this year as well, 3358 compared to 2461 last year.
Several normally seen species such as the Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Northern Shrike, Varied Thrush, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, did not make the list at all. Many species had very low numbers. Also surprising was the low count, 4, of juvenile BALD EAGLES. The adult eagles dined well all winter on starving Common Murres and raised healthy eaglets that successfully fledged. Where are they now? Incidentally, no murres were seen.
Many Feeder Counters wondered where all the birds were, finding few to no birds this fall or winter. The birds may have found enough natural food with the lack of snow cover and abundance of spruce cones and bountiful Mt Ash berries. Phyllis and Sid watching their feeder in town enjoyed a visit by a three adult BALD EAGLES. She captured a dramatic photo of an eagle swooping in as a NW CROW flew away like a bizarre shadow. Ava contributed the only AMERICAN TREE SPARROW at her feeder.
Despite the best efforts of the Lowell Point team, Joe, Kerry, Ann, and Nan, the rare BRAMBLING proved elusive after showing the day before for Count Week. They did score on the only GREAT BLUE HERON, and a MERLIN. A remarkable 41 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS stayed in town, feeding on the ground under spruce trees.
The only kids, Cody and Casey, participating in the Count on their usual route on Exit Glacier Road found the usual RAVENS, MAGPIES, and PINE GROSBEAKS and were impressed with a lone COMMON MERGANSER. Then just as they were preparing to leave, a raptor, which they identified as a PEREGRINE FALCON, flashed across the road, chasing a flock of small birds, perhaps Redpolls or Siskins. The boys and their mom Wendy watched in amazement as the falcon perched on a nearby snag above the car, plucking its dinner, feathers floating down like snowflakes. Now, THAT is a memorable moment!
Another usual bird was a DUNLIN that erupted off the beach with 11 other unidentified shorebirds. Instead of flying off with them, it veered back and landed on the beach nearby giving Marilyn and me a great show. I wonder now if the others were also Dunlins. At least 5 were seen afterwards during Count Week. 38 ROCK SANDPIPERS were also counted in the same area on Count Day.
Count Week turned up nine species including: BRAMBLING, NORTHERN GOSHAWK, SPRUCE GROUSE, GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING GULL hybrid, HOODED MERGANSER, VARIED THRUSH, PACIFIC WREN, SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, and SONG SPARROW.
The CBC is a 100% volunteer project. Special thanks to Captain Jim Herbert for donating the use of his aptly named Kingfisher III landing craft, fuel, maintenance, preparation, and time on short notice for the 13.5 mile ocean route. Tasha and Sadie meticulously counted the seabirds by gender, and nailed 417 BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, the second highest number.
Kudos to Wendy for encouraging her two young boys to explore nature and contribute to citizen science. Thanks to Kit and Robin for diligently scouting for birds throughout the Circle, far in advance of the Count, and to Janet who birded 4 miles on her all-terrain handcycle with studded tires. We were lucky to have Sean and Kurt count and cruise 2 miles out Exit Glacier on their fat tire bikes. I appreciate the efforts of the hikers who spent many hours outside with cold fingers and feet: Ami, Matt, Tim, Michelle, Ann, Terry, Christina, Ron.
It was great to have new Field Counters, Kirstie, Terry, Kathy, and Natalie help to cover several routes this year. Thanks to the four birders from out of town who came to help us. To the faithful Feeder Counters, Phyllis, Sid, Judy, Ava, Duane, Sanna, and Katy thank you for your time watching, hoping, and counting. Many thanks to the folks who feed the birds faithfully all winter even though it is sometimes slow. Thank you for the generous monetary donations to support the Audubon CBC program. And thanks to everyone for their time, effort, and enthusiasm counting birds on a cold, overcast day.
For more information on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and other citizen science opportunities like the Great Backyard Bird Count, please visit http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
Seward CBC Compiler