Sixty species recorded in Christmas Bird Count
A record number of birders turned out to survey the Nicola Valley landscape and participate in the annual Merritt Christmas Bird Count (CBC), held Jan. 2.
Twenty-six people, including beginners and expert birders, joined the effort which meant the Nicola Naturalists were able to cover more land than normal, said society president Dr. Alan Burger.
As a result, the count included unusual CBC birds like Gray Jays, which are not unusual to the area, said Burger, but participants don’t usually make it to their habitat in the higher grasslands.
“We know they’re around, but we don’t usually have people to go find them where they’re hiding in the thickets,” he said. “The advantage of having more people is we’re able to cover the area really well.”
Overall, participants recorded 60 species and 3704 individual birds, which is slightly higher than average for the annual count.
Among the highlights of this year’s count was the first sighting of a single Western Grebe during the Merritt CBC, and a record high number of Great-blue Herons with nine individual birds spotted.
Warmer holiday weather may have affected a few of the numbers this year, said Burger.
“We had a couple of birds that you don’t expect — one Robin and one Varied Thrush — which would usually be down at the coast at this time of year,” he said.
“We also had fewer water fowl, which is a bit of a puzzle. It could be that there are more open lakes than normal so the birds are more dispersed.”
Participants set out at first light and kept their eyes open for birds until it got dark — about eight hours altogether. Some even set out after dinner to do a bit of “owling” in the dark, however, they didn’t spot any owls this year, said Burger.
The weather co-operated for the count delivering a sunny morning and only a few clouds in the afternoon.
Merritt’s Christmas Bird Count is a local contribution to an international effort to record and track bird populations. Each year, the information is gathered and compiled by the Audobon Society in the longest-running wildlife census and used in conservation efforts.
“This is part of a huge exercise that goes across North America, South America and the Caribbean,” said Burger. “We’re contributing to the biggest citizen science exercise that exists and it’s quite exciting to be a part of.”