Bird Count

More typical Alaska weather greeted birders participating in the 117th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Soldotna. Jack Sinclair, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum has been organizing the local count for since 1990 and has witnessed a lot of changes over the last quarter century, “Not only in the type of birds we are seeing move into the area, but the involvement and excitement and interest in birding has really grown in our area. It’s a great opportunity for anyone to come out and learn a little bit about birds and get excited about it. Our regulars are an excited bunch that participate in the Christmas bird count and we’re always glad to have new folks of any age join us,” said Sinclair. The local bird count is done within a relatively small area of the Peninsula that is primarily around the Soldotna area and includes the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. “But within the area we are fortunate to have a lot of activity, we have a lot of water birds and birds of the forest and raptors and eagles, so there are a lot of things to discover out there and won’t notice them unless you get out and spend the day at it,” added Sinclair.

The official Christmas Count Day was Saturday, December 17th and the national count week was December 14th through the 20th. The first local count began in 1984 according to Sinclair, but the history of the Christmas Bird Count goes back to the turn of the 20th Century

when hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

Following the local count participants gathered for traditional pot luck at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where they reported their sightings for the day. A couple of highlights of this year’s count reported Sinclair was the first recorded sighting of a Merlin throughout the count week and on the count day along the lower Kenai River. Also the first recorded Short-Eared Owl was spotted near the mouth of the Kenai River on the count day and throughout the count week as well. “We also had the highest circle count for Mew Gulls at the mouth of the Kenai River with a total of 362 this year,” said Sinclair. Total species tabulated were 38, total individuals were 4,226 and the total participants in this year’s Christmas Bird Count were 32 in the field and 3 feeder watchers reported Sinclair. The local complete specie by specie count can be found at www.audubon.org.

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