Last weekend a group of about four dozen bird enthusiasts took to the outdoors for the Kodiak Christmas bird count. The annual event, which has been going on for more than 40 years, is actually part of a nationwide bird count that is sponsored by the National Audubon Society.
Rich Macintosh is an avid birder and compiler for Kodiak’s count. He said thousands of counts are done in North and South America between mid December and early January. In Alaska alone there are more than 40 counts that take place this time of year.
Macintosh said the goal is to collect annual information about bird species and numbers. The count is a single day event, and Kodiak’s takes place in a 15 mile diameter area that spans from Mayflower Beach toward Termination Point in Monashka Bay. Participants are split into groups that spend the whole day in specific areas, monitoring and recording birds. Macintosh said about 45 people participated in the field, and 15 people were monitoring 11 birdfeeders throughout the day.
“Of those 45 in the field there were 11 lowland groups roaming around within this circle with a diameter of 15 miles, three ptarmigan swat teams up on the mountains, two boats out in the marine waters in the count circle. And you know we had good weather so we got as good of coverage as we’re ever going to get. I think one of the boats had to pull back a little bit because of some wind, but not too much. So the weather was pretty good this year and we did really well.”
All total, Macintosh said they counted 77 species of birds, which is about average compared to recent years.
“But it’s really quite good. And we had about 13,000 individual birds, which is, you know, toward the high end, but not too far off the average. So I consider that to be a very good count.”
Macintosh said the most abundant bird they saw was the greater scaup. He said participants counted more than 1,600 of them.
“And some of the other most abundant birds were common raven, emperor goose, black scoter, long tailed duck, 568 bald eagles, most of those were at the dump. The least abundant birds we found, we found one of 11 different species. Some of those were redhead, ringed-neck duck, great blue heron, peregrine falcon, Wilson snipe, golden eagle, ruby-crowned kinglet. Another bird that’s quite rare here that was found, is not a species untoitself, but it’s a race of another species, and that’s the red fox sparrow. And one of those was found I think for the first time on the count at a bird feeder.”
Local bird enthusiast Stacy Studebaker took part in this year’s count and led a group in the far end of the count circle. She said they spent more than seven hours counting and identifying birds between Mayflower Beach and Middle Bay.
“We start the morning in the spruce forest, right at the edge of the cliff listing to marbled murrelets coming out of the, they roost in the spruce forest at night and then at first break of day they start coming out to the ocean to feed. They vocalize when they fly so we stand there in the dark and we hear them going overhead, it’s really cool, yeah, it’s one of my favorite parts of it.”
Studebaker had some out-of-town guests in her group this year, ones that were thoroughly impressed by Kodiak’s count.
“In my group this year I had the director of Audubon Alaska, Nils Warnock, and his wife Sarah came down. I finally talked them into coming down and doing one of our bird counts. It wasn’t too hard to convince them because up there in Anchorage they don’t have much bird diversity in the winter time. He said typically in the area that he counts with his wife they would get five species, we got about 34 species in our group on Saturday. He was just blown away, anyway, he was very happy to see such a huge diversity of birds in a day here on a road system in the middle of winter.”
As far as the data collected during this year’s count, Macintosh said he’ll send the numbers and species off to the National Audubon Society to be included in its bird count database. He said the information will be available online for anyone to view. Those interested in browsing bird counts from other places, or looking at Kodiak’s past counts can simply search Christmas bird count on the society’s website, birds dot Audubon dot org.