Local birders are getting their winter gear ready for another round of Christmas counting.
The annual Christmas bird count takes place all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Jack Sinclair has been helping organize the count on the Kenai for more than 25 years.
“Ours is just one count circle. The count circle is 16 miles in diameter. The center of if is somewhere just west of the Kenai National Wildlife headquarters. It’s an ambiguous spot, but it allows us to contain in that circle the mouth of the Kenai river and the mouth of the Kasilof river. So it really takes in a great many of these bird habitats in open water and things like that that will attract birds.”
It being winter, daylight is at a premium, so there is some strategy to putting together teams and dispatching them to different parts of the count circle. Unless, of course, you’re an owler.
“If somebody is a good, as they call it, an ‘owler’, or a person who can actually discern owl calls, they could be birding before sunrise," Sinclair says.
"But our actual effective time is probably from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. So, everybody pairs up, we take that circle, we divide it up into areas; all of Funny River Road, all of downtown Soldotna, parts of the lower river, all of K-Beach Road, things like that.”
He says over the years, some new species have been added to the Christmas counts. Robins are hanging around longer into the winter and make the list. And crows are a relatively new addition.
“With urbanization, it really brings in more household birds that are hanging around neighborhoods. The vegetation has changed. Even the temperature, we know, has gotten a little bit warmer over the years, too. Crows showed up ten years ago; they’d never been seen here before in the winter. I know we have a date on one of our counts where they finally showed up for the first time. It’s an indication of how things have changed here.”
The Christmas bird count is December 16th. It’s free. No experience necessary, just warm clothes and binoculars. Birders will meet at Kaladi’s on Kobuk in Soldotna at 9 a.m. to get maps and assignments. You can get in touch with Jack Sinclair by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.