Mild Weather Helps Christmas Bird Count Expand

Thursday, January 02 2014


A few of the 196 rock sandpipers tallied in the survey. /Courtesy Suzi Golodoff

Winter is running late in Unalaska this year -- and that was good news for the annual Christmas Bird Count last Saturday.

With such mild weather, the counters were able to tally the island’s birds in places they usually can’t get to.

In 22 consecutive years of the winter birds survey, organizer Suzi Golodoff says there’s never been so little snow on the ground on a count day.

"We’ve never had a count where we could send people over the back pass, over the Summer Bay/Overland drive, so that was kind of fun," she says. "Of course, there’s not a whole lot up there -- most of our birds are right along the coast, but it was fun to have a team go up and over. And they were the only folks that got rock ptarmigan, because the ptarmigan were all kind of up high."

Twenty-seven adults and eight kids divided into teams all around Unalaska. They counted birds across 44 miles of ground on the count day, which was last Saturday.

The teams counted 8,076 birds of 38 different species. The highest number of species they’ve seen was 51, in 2009. But Golodoff says this year’s count was fairly standard -- though it included a new record for one of her favorite birds.

"It did make me smile to see so many song sparrows this year. I’m pretty partial to those song sparrows, and it was a high count this year," she says. "I don’t think we’ve ever had 44 on a count, and it could be that we just got people farther afield this year. I don’t know exactly why, but it was sure nice to see."

She also says they only saw about 200 long-tailed ducks on the count day. But she saw at least a thousand gathered at the Spit dock on New Year’s Day.

Goldoff says that this year’s calmer, warmer weather meant there weren’t as many rare birds to count. In other years, storms and blizzards have brought unusual birds in from sea.

But she says she was pleased with the turnout this year -- both of birds, and bird counters.

"Some years I have to really beat the bushes to get my sections covered, but this year we had a good group of counters," she says. "And, of course, the weather was good, so I think people stayed out and got a good look at their areas and enjoyed themselves."

Unalaska’s count will go into the National Audubon Society’s database, along with many others in Alaska and around the country. The project has been running for more than a century.


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