Birders had their eyes on the sky during Chestermere’s fourth annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 19, 2021
While the weather was a little gloomy, birdwatchers were happy with their record count of 2,982, including the identification of 20 new bird species.
According to bird count organizer Don Cassidy, the total number of birds spotted in the 2021 event was the highest of all four years, and included several surprises.
The number of new species was also higher than previous years and included a northern shrike, snowy owl, snow buntings, and mallards.
“Last year we had 18 [new species] and what was interesting is that we didn't see some of last year's species but we had enough new ones this year to more than take their place,” Cassidy said.
The number of birds within each species was also a surprise to Cassidy and the other bird watchers.
“We had some real jaw droppers,” he said.
Those jaw-droppers included 12 ring-necked pheasants, 12 gray partridges, a flock of 150 common redpolls, around 300 mallards, and 200 snow buntings.
“We saw a flock of [snow buntings], about 200, the whole earth moved over on the Inverlake Road,” Cassidy said. “Everything started moving and we were like, 'Wow'. It was like winning a decent lottery.”
The birders were floored when spotting the flock of 150 common redpolls, he added, describing them as “the cutest little birds” with little red patches on the front centre of their forehead and beautiful fluffy feathers.
The biggest flock of birds they discovered was more than 300 mallards, who aren’t usually still in the area in December, Cassidy said.
“I never thought I would see ducks in December. You’d think they migrate to the coast or to Mexico to enjoy the beaches there – and enjoy a tequila,” Cassidy chuckled.
Another highlight was when one team came across a flock of 15 Bohemian waxwings.
Cassidy and his wife Elaine moved to Chestermere in the fall of 2018, and found out there was no active bird count conducted in the area. After doing some research into how to organize an official bird count, Cassidy applied and was assigned a circular area around Chestermere via Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, a North American nonprofit conservation organization.
Cassidy explained that he always enjoyed being outside but didn’t start concentrating on bird watching until the spring of 2017, after he retired.
“Really, I would call myself a rookie compared to lots of people I was able to meet down here in Alberta,” he said.
Over the years, more people are starting to participate in Chestermere’s Christmas bird count, according to Cassidy. This year, 13 people split up into teams to cover different sections of Chestermere’s bird-watching radius.
“You drive around a good chunk of the country out here, which is just beautiful. Elaine and I did one quadrant and others did the others,” Cassidy said.
Roughly five people were assigned to stay at home and count birds in their backyards and at their feeders.
During the count, birders recorded 455 house sparrows, one white-breasted nuthatch, 71 rock pigeons, one northern shrike, one blue jay, 157 common redpolls, 12 gray partridges, 12 house finches, 117 black-billed magpies, 1,575 Canada geese, one merlin, 12 ring-necked pheasants, six black-capped chickadees, six northern flickers, 23 common ravens, 15 bohemian waxwings, one snowy owl, 200 snow buntings, 316 mallards, and one red-breasted nuthatch.
The data from this bird count goes into a global database that helps track the health of bird species and provides historical records for specific areas.
Cassidy explained the data can be used by researchers and scientists to come up with predictions for species in danger or the effects of climate change on certain species.
“Audubon and the Christmas Bird Count can retell the story of the different species that are moving or not even migrating anymore,” Cassidy said. “It's like opening up the encyclopedia of birding and you can learn about the story of what's changed.”
Cassidy hopes the bird count will continue in Chestermere each year, and added that it’s nice to match a hobby with civilian science.
“It brings [out] all the folks that love birds and doing scientific work in their own way by identifying and adding the numbers. It's a cool hobby,” Cassidy said.