Birds of a feather get tallied together

Local bird watchers are setting their sights on the upcoming Christmas Bird Count.

Hosted by the National Audubon Society, this December’s event marks the 116th year since the society prompted a switch from an annual wildlife hunt to a yearly bird tally to promote conservation. The national count began on Monday, but local participants will have from Saturday to Jan. 5 to spy their favorite fowls.

Jack Sinclair is in charge of compiling data for the local bird-watching area, a circle that encompasses parts of Kenai, Soldotna, and the Kasilof River flats. All circles are 15 miles in diameter, according to Audubon’s website.

“I’ve always enjoyed birding,” Sinclair said, adding that he first took over a counting circle in Seward at the request of a coworker. “Now it’s become kind of a lifelong little hobby that we tend to like to try to do every winter now.”

The count area used to be centered on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, but was moved slightly west three years ago to include the Kasilof River flats, Sinclair said.

“It allows us to have one more estuary, the Kasilof River mouth, and there’s a lot of shore birds down there,” he said.

The circle is broken up into nine or 10 sections, and fellow birders gather at Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna at 9 a.m. the morning of the count for assignments, Sinclair said. The refuge hosts a gathering at the end of each day where counters come together to share their tallies, said Todd Eskelin, a fish and wildlife biologist with the refuge.

From there, Sinclair gives the data to the Audubon Society, where it is entered into a public database along with counts from the rest of the United States, Canada and several other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

While the count can identify certain trends, Eskelin said it is limited in that each count can only be compared to the previous counts that were conducted the same way in the same areas.

“It’s not really a strict, hard core science-based kind of thing,” he said. “It’s really just more of an opportunity for birders to get together and do a count.”

Sinclair said each count generally holds at least a few surprises that bird watchers will uncover during the daily debriefing. He said his volunteers have seen greater numbers of traditionally warm weather birds in recent years.

In addition to the number of birders out tallying, the weather plays a role in the outcome of the count, Sinclair said.

“I’d say if the Kenai River continues to be free of ice, it might be good birding,” he said. “The more open water you have, the more possibility you have of seeing diving ducks.”

Anyone is welcome to participate in the count, Sinclair said, and need only come prepared with binoculars, a bird book, and snacks to fuel their search. Dressing for the weather is also essential, he said.

To learn more about the local Christmas Bird Count, contact Sinclair at 907-398-7497.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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