Bird count spots 17 species


Hoary redpoll was one of 17 species observed in Hay River during the annual Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 2.

Hoary redpoll was one of 17 species observed in Hay River during the annual Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 2.

Everyone knows there are plenty of ravens in Hay River but there are lots of other species of birds as well.

The annual Christmas Bird Count proves that with a local species total for count day the highest it has been for the past few years.

“We had 17 species this year which is good,” said Gary Vizniowski, the Hay River compiler for the Christmas Bird Count which takes place all over North America.

Last year, 15 were spotted.

In all, 709 birds were spotted on count day, up from 591 last winter.

Plus, two additional species – one three-toed woodpecker and five willow ptarmigan – were seen during count week.

“The main count was on Jan. 2 and that’s where we had 17 species,” Vizniowski explained. “Now, if you see a species in count week which is three days before and three days after, that wasn’t seen on count day, then you report them, too.”

Vizniowski said there were no out-of-range or out-of-season birds observed this year.

“Lots of times we’ll have a robin or some sparrows or something that are out of season,” he said. “But this is the first year that we haven’t had anything that’s out of season.”

Last year, there was a robin spotted during count week.

This year, Vizniowski said birders spotted two great-horned owls.

“A lot of times we don’t see or hear them but we had a couple of people this year that did. So that was good,” he said. “And then the white-winged crossbill, that’s another one. There are white-winged crossbills and red crossbills around but we don’t always see them and they don’t show up on too many counts. One of the fellows had 10 of them in a tree in his yard the first thing that morning, so that was good.”

The count area is a circle with a 12-km radius centred at the communications towers next to the new health centre.

Vizniowski was pleased with the number of people participating this year – five people driving around to different areas and six or seven who were watching their backyard bird feeders.

One of those participants was Bruce Green, who revived the Christmas Bird Count in Hay River in 1977 after it had begun about 10 years earlier but fell dormant.

“It’s kind of a fun thing,” he said. “It’s something that’s taken pretty seriously in areas of North America.”

Green said there are more bird species – close to 30 – in the Hay River area during the winter than most people think.

Occasionally, an unusual species like a robin or a blackbird is spotted during the annual count, he said.

“Sometimes you get a surprise and that makes it interesting.”

The Christmas Bird Count in Hay River ran from the 1970s to the late ’90s when it again fell dormant.

Vizniowski has been organizing the event for the last 10 years.

“My hobby is birding and photography. I believe in it,” he said of the annual count. “I organize and run it.”

Christmas Bird Counts are conducted on any one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 inclusive.

There are five other counts in the NWT – in Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Yellowknife, Norman Wells and Nahanni Butte.

The event originated in 1900 when American ornithologist Frank Chapman asked birders across North America to head out on Christmas Day to count the birds in their hometowns and submit the results as the first Christmas Bird Census.

The Christmas Bird Count, as it is now called, is conducted in more than 2,000 localities across Canada, the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. These bird observations have been amassed into a database reflecting the distribution and numbers of winter birds over time.

The data allow researchers, conservation biologists and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

-Paul Bickford