More feathers in Hay River


A black capped chickadee that was captured by photographer Gary Vizniowski during the week of the annual Christmas bird count in Hay River.
— Gary Vizniowski photo

It’s the culmination of the season for those who casually refer to themselves as “birders.”

The number of species at year’s Hay River Christmas Bird Count came in at 17. That’s up one bird type from last year.

There a steep increase in raven sightings, up more than 100 from last year. The Black-billed Magpie and Black-capped Chickadee were also up in numbers: 33 and 42 more sightings than last year. There were a few more people taking part in the bird count this year, said count compiler Gary Vizniowski.

He said that’s one of the only reasons they caught sight of rough grouse and spruce grouse, birds that comes out onto the road, finding their feed in gravel. They were also able to spot a goshawk out at the ski club.

Still, there were a few species birders weren’t able to spot, being too far away from the backwoods of their habitat.

To try and get those extra ones you have to get out and about,” said Vizniowski. “There are still some we know are around but we didn’t get to see, some of the crossbills and a few woodpeckers and owls. It takes quite a bit of luck to see them because none of them are out scouring for food and no roads cross their habitat. Getting back into their space with a skidoo would be noisy.”

Vizniowski said he’s noticed birds “puffing up” this winter, potentially to deal with the cold.

The bird count will be available online through Audubon Science. The society promotes the annual census, which began around the early 1900’s to observe the dwindling bird population.

Hay River birders who take part in the count work within a 24-kilometre area. That catchment area, set in the 1970s, covers the Great Slave Lake beach to just before the golf course.

The yearly counts help determine population numbers and the migration and movement of species across the continent. Results from each count are available online and can be compared to other years for spikes and dives in population.

But it doesn’t bag all the birds, said Vizniowski, especially the elusive breeds that are supposed to migrate, but don’t.

I’ve had a number of people tell me they see Robins around, but they never see them around count days,” he said. “Starlings are supposed to go south for winter. This is not the first time starlings have been counted, but it’s the first time in five years.”

— Angele Cano