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Chance to meet people and talk birds
Twenty-four local bird watchers brave cold for Christmas count

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No new bird records were set during this year's Christmas bird count in Yellowknife, except for maybe the number of participants.

NNSL photo/graphic

Christine Wenman takes note of the birds she sees on Jolliffe Island on Boxing Day. - photo courtesy of Richard McIntosh

More than two dozen people showed up on Dec. 28 to take part in the event, organized annually by Ecology North. They drove to different parts of the city, listening and watching for different bird species.

"It seems birds have some habits we kind of pick up on," says long-time bird watcher Suzanne Carriere. "You get to know what type of birds are where.

"We should make ourselves a little sign that says, 'birder on board,' because we drive erratically and stop often," she joked.

A long-time participant in the count, Carriere said there were no surprises in bird numbers or species spotted this year, but was surprised by the number of new faces.

"We're more on Facebook and Twitter now," Carriere said. "We're using social media, so it's really helping."

For serious birders like Carriere, the count is an opportunity to compare her results to years of collected data. She also finds pride in the count's contributions to studying the environment.

"It's the kind of survey that tells you if something is going wrong with our birds," Carriere said.

"And if something is going wrong with the birds, then something is going wrong with the environment."

But Carriere says newcomers can get a great deal of satisfaction too.

"It's cold this time of year, so it's a chance to get out and meet people and learn about birds," she said.

Despite temperatures dropping down to -38 C (without factoring in wind chill), Carriere and the 24 other participants spent most of the day outside, binoculars poised to spot birds.

"There was maybe more probability of getting frostbite," she said of how the count went compared to in previous years.

"But the birds were out. They're tough."

As always, the most common bird spotted was the raven, with 2,056 counted. Yellowknife holds the world record for most ravens spotted during the Christmas bird count, set back in 2010 when 2,613 were seen. Carriere said as the human population grows, so too does the raven population.

Woodland species like Gray jays and Boreal chickadees - once more common near the city - are harder to find now, says Carriere.

"We're seeing less, I think, because the city is getting bigger," Carriere said. "Their habitat is really the forest."

A single American three-toed woodpecker was spotted along the road to Dettah. A Goshawk and a Gyrfalcon were spotted as well, but not on the day of the count.

Birders have noticed one species is beginning to rebound - the house sparrow. Recently, numbers were on the decline, likely due to disease, said Carriere.

Although birders go out in pairs to their own distinct sectors of the city, there is a social element to the count. A potluck dinner was held at the end of the day, where participants met to warm up and discuss results.

For those who would like to participate, but find little appeal in spending the day outside at -38 C, Carriere said there are options for bird enthusiasts to help with the count from home, as Ecology North also takes tallies of birds spotted in their backyards, back decks and bird feeders.

"So you can stay in your pyjamas and have another turkey sandwich," Carriere joked.

Next year's count will take place sometime after Christmas. Carriere said all are welcome to join and register at Ecology North on the morning of the count.

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