Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Bird Count - How many canaries are left?

Our birder friend, Dianne, (well, she does other things besides birding) emailed to invite us to the Christmas Bird Count today. The Audubon website explains:
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an organized continent-wide survey that documents every bird seen on a given day from sunrise to sunset. Since the turn of the 20th century, the Christmas Bird Count has contributed to the knowledge base of wintering birds in North America. This information is also important to allow scientists to detect fluctuations and trends of birds over a period of years.

1986: Coal mine canaries made redundant

More than 200 canary birds are being phased out of Britain's mining pits, according to new plans by the government.

Modern technology is being favoured over the long-serving yellow feathered friend of the miner in detecting harmful gases which may be present underground.

The Downey Woodpecker was clear in the binoculars, but not so clear in the camera.

This moose was one of four we saw. If you click on the moose to enlarge it, you can see a white horizontal bar just to the right of her nose. That was part of the wing feather a magpie using the moose as a trampoline.

We do see birds all winter, particularly ravens and magpies which are big and plentiful all winter and their black plumage stands out against the snow. But the little birds flit around so quickly that they are hard to see. But when you ride around for four hours specifically looking for birds, you see a lot more.

When we were in China, I was watching all the birds on campus - an oasis of trees in the increasingly concrete city. Most of my students were surprised when I talked about the birds. First that I was interested in them, second that there were any on campus - they just didn't 'see' them. But coal miners used to take canaries down into the mines because they were affected much faster than people if the air went bad. The canaries were introduced into the mines in 1911 and were phased out in Britain in 1986 according to a BBC story.

Birds and other animals serve as environmental canaries on earth. The counts give at least a rough count of the number and location of birds in the United States. The changes from year to year help identify trends. For instance, today Dianne was upset with the 20 European Starlings we saw, bird not natural to Anchorage, that have been increasing in number steadily, and harmfully to other birds whose nests in tree holes they invade.

Dianne had a regular route for this part of east Anchorage and we saw quite a few birds. I was able to get some pictures of the larger birds (eagles and ravens) and this one unrecognizable picture of the downey woodpecker.

We also got some more exotic birds. Dianne wouldn't let us put them in the official count list, but she stopped long enough for me to take pictures of the flamingos, penguins (we saw one more before these) and the robin.


  1. We've been meaning to do the winter bird count for years. Maybe now, with the kids in college....? From 91 to 96, a couple friends of mine and I did the winter Audobon count along the Hanford Reach of the Colombia River in January.

  2. We saw some trees full of birds today. There were all over the tops of mountain ashes and then suddenly disappeared like they'd never been there.

    One of my daughters is doing a high school report on chickadee-dee-dee beak malformations. She is making bird houses for all of her friends and baking special chickadee corn bread that will help their beaks get better with the nutrients they need. We need to figure out how to protect them from the cats though. Our cats are sadly great birders, but we got them to get mice which they are fortunately good at. My husband wants to put a high fence around the tree with the birdhouse and plant catnip inside the boundary to antagonize the cats. . . with birds and their "drug"!

  3. Phil (and Tea), you didn't miss it yet. The Matsu Christmas Bird Count is tomorrow (as I write) Sunday, there's another for Trapper Creek (Dec. 29) and Eagle River is Dec.30:

    Event: Matanuska Valley Christmas Bird Count
    Date and Time: December 16, All Day
    Location: Varies – contact Bob Winkler for more info.
    Description: Contact Event: Matanuska Valley Christmas Bird Count
    Date and Time: December 16, All Day
    Location: Varies – contact Bob Winkler for more info.
    Description: Contact Bob Winckler

    You can check them all out at the Audubon site.

    Tea, The bohemian waxwings love mountain ash berries. They come in huge swarms and swoop down on trees, eat a few minutes, then disappear. They are very beautiful birds. Google it.

  4. I hated birds in Croatia. They had voice like crying babies and they did it around 5am. Bald Eagle is very cool. I saw a picture about it on Biology. That was the most interesting part of Biology to me.

  5. I'm always impressed at the tenacity of the flamingoes (flamingos?). They exist everywhere it seems, and even the snow doesn't bother them. And of course the penguins have now pretty much migrated from pole to pole (or pole to Anchorage - probably some have made it to Fairbanks, too). Haven't seen any dodo's in a while, however, so perhaps rumors of their extinction are not too out of line.


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