Hay Riverites are getting ready for this year’s annual Christmas Bird Count Dec. 14, but organizers are hoping to add more to the ranks of watchers.
“It just takes more people going out and hitting the trails to see more of the ones who don’t come to the feeders,” Gary Vizniowski told The Hub. “Last year, we had eight or nine people watching their feeders, and a few more out at the golf course.”
He said although there are a number of birds seen every year, others known to inhabit the area are harder to spot. While there are five kinds of owls in the Hay River area, they have yet to be counted in the annual tradition. The same goes for two of the five kinds of woodpeckers in town.
“I’m hoping to find someone who wants to travel around Vale Island, walk the Oxbow trail, that sort of thing,” said Vizniowski, adding that not having any previous experience shouldn’t be a barrier to participation. “If there are people who want to join in, but maybe don’t know all their birds, that’s not a problem… we can pair them up with someone who does.”
The count began in the United States in 1900 and has since grown to include more than 2,300 counts across several countries in 2012. One day, between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 inclusive, is picked and participants report the birds they see in the same 24-kilometre circle every year. Seventeen species were counted in Hay River in the last few years, but Vizniowski said over the years, he and his fellow bird-watchers have seen more than 45 species in the area, about 15 more than the authoritative text on the matter says there should be.
Ecology North’s Kim Rapati said it’s a good opportunity to get in touch with local nature.
“The Christmas Bird Count is exciting because it gives us a chance to be ‘citizen scientists’ for a day,” she said. “The data that is collected by observers allows researchers, conservation biologists and others to study the long-term health and status of bird populations. It means we can be a real part of conservation action.”
While the scientific results are certainly useful, other enthusiasts see value in getting together as a community to take stock of our natural surroundings. Bruce Green, who revived the annual count as a class project when he was a teacher at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, said he saw some students really take up the challenge and he still gets calls all year long about particular fauna people in town have noticed.
“It’s a little zany. Often it’s on the coldest day of the year and here we are out chasing birds,” he told The Hub. “But the main thing us that it gives people involved in natural history a change to get together and work on a project.”