The birders met at 8:30 in the morning Saturday at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. They came prepared with warm coats, binoculars, and even tripod mounted spotting scopes.
“We have seven count areas within our circle and then we have some sub-areas depending on how many people show up. The count starts at nine o’clock,” says Erikson.
Dave Erikson led the effort. He’s been taking part in Christmas bird counts for the past 39 years. He says the project extends across North, Central and South America. The count is especially popular in Alaska.
“There are about 2,200 areas where they do the Christmas Bird Count. There are about 60,000 people who participate and it’s one of the oldest citizen science projects ever,” says Erikson.
The bird count is conducted by regular people, volunteers, anyone who cares enough to come out and record sightings. For the larger scientific community, the information the volunteers gather is a valuable collection of trend data. Erikson says it gives the volunteers a sense of contributing to something they feel is important. Gary Lyon is an avid birder and he led my group of bird watchers out to the spit.
“At this time of year you can find something really cool besides all the really cool birds that are [already] here,” Gary says. “We have the spit area so we’re going to try and find maybe a visiting shorebird, possibly an interesting sea duck, or a puddle duck.”
After a brief shuffling of personnel we loaded up and headed out to the spit to start counting. Lyon partnered with Joane Thordarsin. The two birders’ heads were on a constant swivel. At first it seemed a minute couldn’t go by without one of them spotting another bird. The count went on through the late afternoon. Then, the birders regrouped at Islands and Ocean to compile data.
“We had a big flock of snow buntings which is kind of unusual for that species. And then we had at least a hundred Gray Crowned Rosy Finch, but that is kind of what you would expect to find out there,” Gary says.
Overall Lyon says he saw mostly what he expected.
“Nothing that made you go yippee,” Gary says.
Lyon’s results mirrored the rest of the birders’. The collective reported only a few outliers from the norm. On average, the birders record 62 species each year in the Homer area. After completing the checklist, Erikson concluded this year they came in just under the average. But Erikson says there’s a grace period for late submissions from bird watchers who want to report more sightings.
“People can record bird species that they see, but we don’t count the numbers,” says Erikson.
New information has trickled in since Saturday and currently the number of species spotted stands at 67. The Christmas Bird Count results from Homer and the rest of Alaska will be published in the Journal: American Birds.