Alaska enthusiasts flock to annual Christmas Bird Count
"There's a lot of senior volunteer power behind the annual Anchorage-area Christmas Bird Count."
That testimonial to senior volunteerism comes from Louann Feldmann. She's education chair of the Anchorage Audubon Society and will head this year's local Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
"We coordinate our bird count with the National Audubon Society," she says. "It's a nationwide, continent-wide happening and will take place on Sunday, December 14 this year." She adds happily, "It's free! And for the second time ever, UAA will host our after-the-count party and tally at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Union Cafeteria. It's a fabulous day of counting birds, followed by a delectable chili feed – generally, a rollicking good time."
" 'But I don't know birds,' I can hear someone saying," Louann continues. "It's an inclusive time. When novice birders are involved, we can pair them with experienced birders. It's fine. We teach them the ropes. And people with all levels of physical ability – fitness – can be involved. Some go out vigorously skiing or snowshoeing. Some take a leisurely drive or walk through their neighborhood. You can even sit at home, look out the window, and count the birds at your feeder."
Kenna Sue Trickey, an experienced birder and retired school teacher, echoes these thoughts. "I think this will be the 10th year I've been involved in the Christmas Bird Count," she says. "Birding is a way of life for me. I've been birding on all seven continents." But asked about her favorite Christmas bird count memory, she tells a tale of assisting a beginning birder.
"Three of us have always gone out on the Christmas count together – piled in the car. But there was room for a fourth, so we invited a new friend to come along, someone who had never been birding."
In typical dedicated birder fashion, they were in hot pursuit of one particular bird.
"We'd heard rumors there might be a hawk owl in the area. Us experts were hot to see it! Guess who spotted it? Looking out the window, our novice friend said casually, 'Oh, look I think there is a big bird in that tree.' There was our Northern Hawk Owl – the only one officially sighted that year. Such excitement. We laughed and laughed."
Now Kenna Sue has her grandchildren involved in birding. Ages six, three and one-and-a half, she takes them along on her outings.
"The six year-old grandson, Aidan, loves it! Even if we just take a walk in the park, he brings his binoculars and bird list along. Evan, the three-year-old, is just learning to use his binoculars. I admit the littlest one is not really a birder yet– but she will be!"
During her 25 years of school teaching and while she was raising three children, Kenna Sue confesses she spent her days running around, fast.
"One thing birding has taught me is to be patient, to be still, quiet. I'm learning it's good to be patient. Sometimes you just have to be still, stop, and look and look. It takes time. Retired seniors, us grandparents, have time – right?" she says with a chuckle.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, the Alaska Zoo will hold its Christmas Bird Count for Kids, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"This would be a really special time for grandparents to introduce their grandkids to birding – or for any parent and child to become involved," Luann states. There are only a small number of these birding spots available. Contact Stephanie Hartman at the Alaska Zoo, 341-6463, to reserve a place. The fee is $3 per person.
To sign up for the Anchorage Audubon Christmas Bird Count, register ahead on the National Audubon website at http://netapp.audubon.org/cbc/public. Or call Luann Feldman, 952-2408. You can also email her at email@example.com or Susan Westervelt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the Christmas Bird Count has contributed to the knowledge base of wintering birds in North America. It's an organized, continent-wide survey documenting every bird seen on a given day from sunrise to sunset. The information is important in allowing scientists to detect fluctuations and trends of birds over a period of years.
"And there's a really cool part," Louann says. "Anchorage is always at the top of the list of national participants in the CBC. This is not based on per capita – we have one of the highest absolute numbers of counters. Last year, Anchorage logged the eighth highest number of participants in the entire U.S. We beat out New York, LA, Chicago, San Diego, and lots more. We totally rocked the Christmas Bird Count!"
She stresses that you must register in advance. "And one more thing: If you're out counting, wear as many layers as you own. Even driving teams will have all the windows down in order to hear anything that's stirring. And I particularly encourage anyone with feeders in the Anchorage area who can spare at least one hour to watch their feeders to participate."
Louann hopes we can "rock the count" again this year.
Bird Count events around the state
For information on Christmas Bird Count dates and locations all around Alaska, visit the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count