By Robin Mayo
This December, WISE is taking on a new project, and we’d like to invite everyone to participate. Ruth McHenry, who has been organizing Kenny Lake’s Christmas Bird Count since time immemorial, has passed the binoculars to WISE. We will be handling the pre-count coordination, count day festivities, and compiling the numbers and submitting them to Audubon, who organizes this international event now in its 117th year.
The Christmas Bird Count started as an alternative activity to a tradition known as a “Side Hunt,” when teams of hunters would go afield for a day, with the side slaying the biggest pile of feathered and furred quarry declared the winter. In December 1900, Frank Chapman, an officer in the newly organized Audubon Society, organized a day of birding to help take census of winter birds. 25 different counts were held, in locations from Ontario to California, and the tradition was born.
Today, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the largest Citizen Science events in the world. In 2016, over 2500 local counts were held, with a total of 76,000 observers. In each local count, observers work within a 15 mile diameter circle, and follow protocols to make the data collected relevant and useful to scientists. The Kenny Lake count circle has its center at the intersection of the Old and New Edgerton Highways. Other local Christmas Bird Counts are also held in Copper Center and Gakona.
The Christmas Bird Count data is used in a myriad of ways by scientists. The over a century worth of data is especially important in establishing baselines, and looking for change trends in populations. It is also a chance for birders to get out in a season that is often overlooked, and earn some bragging rights for numbers of species, and unusual observations. In last year’s count, Dave Wellman saw a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a frequent summer sighting but very unusual in winter. When unusual birds are sighted, documenting with photographs becomes important.
The Kenny Lake count includes data from field observers who travel by foot, car, ski, and snowshoes throughout the area. It also gathers data from feeder watchers, and sightings made soon before or after the actual count day, during the “count week.”
Under WISE management Christmas Bird Count will look much the same, but we are hoping to inspire new participants, including classes of school children. We hope to hold one of our Science Lectures in conjunction with count week, to learn more about the science of Christmas Bird Count. If you’d like to sign up as a field observer or feeder watcher, please give us a call at 822-3575, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.