Saturday, December 8, 2012

2012 Annual Christmas Bird Count Dec 15

Victoria, BC, December 2012 Birders in Victoria have been treated to an unprecedented number of rarities on Vancouver Island this fall, including Canada’s first record of a Citrine Wagtail, present in the Comox area since mid-November. According to Victoria Christmas Bird Count Coordinator, that could make for one of the most exciting counts we’ve had in almost a decade.

“We set a national record in 2004 with 154 species seen on our count day”, says Ann Nightingale. “With the number of rare and unusual birds in the area, we might just top that this year. “A couple of species that eluded us last year – Snowy Owl and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher – are possibilities again this year. We’ve also had a large flock of Brown Pelicans, a Palm Warbler, and a Harris’s Sparrow in Victoria recently.”

Even more impressive than the potential number of species is the number of participants. “For the last two years, Victoria has had the highest field participation number of more than 2000 Christmas Bird Count circles. In 2011, 220 people helped out with our count. This year, the participation fee has been dropped, so I know other cities will be giving us a run”, predicts Nightingale.

Although the Christmas Bird Counts are collaborative rather than a competition, there are some friendly rivalries. “Victoria and Ladner have a see-saw battle for which circle can get the most species”, explains Nightingale. “When I get a call from a Vancouver reporter, I know we’ve been beaten.” Last year, both circles chalked up 140 species for a tie for the high count in Canada.

Surprisingly, feederwatch numbers in Victoria have been extremely low. “I know there are tens of thousands of people in Victoria who are feeding their backyard birds. But we rarely get more than a few dozen feederwatch reports”, comments Nightingale. “We’ve set up a special reporting form on our website that includes links to pictures of common feeder birds to help people identify their feathered guests. We’d love to see those numbers explode!”

Another challenge for the Victoria count is the lack of “on-the-water” observers. “We used to have three boats take volunteers out to cover the offshore areas within our count circle”, explains Nightingale. “We’ve lost them over the years to retirements and relocations. The nearshore areas are well-covered by people with spotting scopes, but we’d welcome anyone out on the water or visiting the offshore islands to report their counts and locations on our count day.”

Each Christmas Bird Count (CBC) volunteer observer is an important contributor, helping to shape the overall direction of bird conservation,” says Dick Cannings, the Bird Studies Canada Christmas Bird Count coordinator. “Bird Studies Canada and our partners at Audubon rely on data from the CBC database to inform a myriad of analyses regarding both bird conservation and climate change.”

During last year’s count, a record near-65 million birds were tallied in 2248 locations by 63,227 volunteers, the number of both locations and observers a record level of participation. In Canada, 12,019 participants in 410 counts found 3.9 million birds. In Victoria, Anna’s Hummingbirds almost doubled their previous high count, with 1063 reported on the count day.

The CBC began over a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history. On Christmas Day in 1900, the small group posed an alternative to the “side hunt,” a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Instead, Chapman proposed that they identify, count, and record all the birds they saw, founding what is now considered to be the world's most significant citizen-based conservation effort – and a more than century-old institution.

Since Chapman’s retirement in 1934, new generations of observers have performed the modern-day count. Today, over 60,000 volunteers from all 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies, and Pacific Islands, count and record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area.

The CBC is vital in monitoring the status of resident and migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere, and the data, which are 100% volunteer generated, have become a crucial part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring database. “Victoria’s count will be on Saturday, December 15, with several other nearby circles holding their counts a little later. Beginners and families are encouraged to participate,” says Nightingale. “It’s a fun day for everyone.”

After the day of searching the trails, beaches, yards and parks, there is a social gathering to recount the day’s activities. Everyone is welcome. For more information on the feederwatch and counts on southern Vancouver Island, please visit the Victoria Natural History Society website or contact Ann at

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