On Christmas Day 1900 ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an officer of the emerging Audubon Society proposed we switch from the yearly Christmas Side Hunt to a Christmas Bird Census, binoculars rather than guns. Conservation was in its beginning stages and many naturalists were becoming concerned about the declining bird populations. The important data collected on this day would assist biologists in developing strategies to protect birds and their habitat and help identify environmental issues with implication for people as well.
On Sunday, December 18th 20 enthusiastic birders headed out into the field for Bella Coola’s fourth official Christmas Bird count. That morning brought the valley a significant change in weather. A complete shift from our so blue sky and frigid outflow wind to a low cloud blanket, moisture laden air and a skiff of snow. I was a bit worried that it would be a repeat of last years bird count where deep, heavy snow made walking near impossible. Lucky for us, the accumulation of snow was minimal and the warmer air made being outside much more pleasant.
Now where are the birds? The key was to find some open water or shelter under stands of trees. The Bella Coola river was still dressed in winter, lined with ice and slushy bergs floating. Here a duck, there a duck. A Barrow’s or a Common Goldeneye? Out comes the bird guide, put on your stealth mode and get closer with binoculars glued to eyes. It is a pleasure and a joy to unravel these nature puzzles. So much to learn and understand.
One doesn’t have to be an expert ornithologist to participate the Christmas Bird Count. You need only possess a curiosity about nature and these amazing, resilient birds that are able to survive through our Bella Coola winters.
Lively conversation was held over clam chowder and curried squash soup, Catherine’s homemade buns and Sie’s delectable sweets. Debate over the ID of two hawks spotted. Was that a flock of chickadees or pine siskins? What kind of gulls are at the dump? Glaucous-winged, Californian, Herring? There were some highlights, Monica’s pair of Wilson’s Snipes bobbing for food in the riverlet flowing into the Grant Road skating pond, Harvey’s flock of 60 scoters (various). Eva’s red winged blackbirds. Doug’s Barred Owls. Scanning through books we preened new information. Did you know that the Hudson’s Bay Company used to buy Trumpeter Swans breast skins?
Thank you again to Active Communities for supporting this important project and if all this piques your interest well, connect with me next year.