I stepped out the door to the biting embrace of -36C the morning of Boxing Day. The sun had not yet risen, and there were no birds to be seen or heard. The sky was clear and the air perfectly still which I was very grateful for. -36C is can be miserable enough without wind chill added to it! I had already packed my bird guides, count data sheets, binoculars, and scope the previous night, and my camera batteries had been freshly charged. All I had to do the morning of the Tagish Christmas Bird Count was help my Mom make some sandwiches for the ‘Tagish CBC Social’ (as we have come to call it) that would take place after the group members had finished counting in the outdoors. I checked the thermometer again, worried about cancellations due to the cold, and decided to phone some of the participants. 10 people dropped out, and there were a few that I was not sure would come. However, when my Dad and I went to Tagish Bridge at 11:00pm, 8 brave people met us, bundled up so well that with a few of them you could only see their eyes. 3 more group members, including Dan Kemble (the compiler and leader of the Carcross Christmas Bird Count) loaded their skidoos, skis, and snowshoes onto a trailer and drove to Microwave Road, the Radio Tower Mountain. They spent their day trekking all over the mountain above treeline in search of ptarmigan for the count.
The group of people who met me at the bridge were all eager for an afternoon of chasing birds, and we set off across the bridge at a fast pace. Walking helped to keep us warm; when we stopped the cold fingers of winter would creep through our winter clothing and pinch our cheeks and noses. Though it was freezing, the sky was gorgeous. The pale morning sun shone through ice fog over the ice and valleys, creating a bright golden glow all over the sky. Towards Marsh Lake the icy haze thinned out to reveal the cold blue sky. The cold caused most of the birds to hide away with their feathers fluffed in the trees, and as a result we didn’t see very much. Our first bird of the count/walk was Pine Grosbeak. We walked down a short trail beside the river (6-Mile) to the Marina, through the Marina parking lot and back up towards the road to the Tagish Gas Station. From there, 2 more group members met up with us to touch base, and then they set out on a driving expedition from one end of Tagish to the other. The rest of us split up and drove our separate ways from the gas station as well. One team of 3 sisters went to check out Sydney Street, Tagish River Road, Tagish Estates, and Tagish landfill.
The team that I led stayed around the bridge for a while longer, checking out the gas station area, then crossing the road to go and walk through the Tagish Campground. We saw Magpies, Ravens, and Pine Grosbeaks there before we left. The cars were so welcoming; by the time we finished with the bridge area we were all throughly chilled to the bone. The next and last destination for the team of bird-lovers that I led was California Beach. This is an area that everyone looks forward to as it is a little warmer than the bridge, and because this is the spot where your are almost always guaranteed open water and ducks through the winter, even in -40C. The currents from the water moving from Tagish Lake into the river pathway seems to always keep the water open in that spot. We didn’t stay for very long, but we did get an accurate count of the ducks paddling and diving in the grey water at -36C. We saw 2 Common Mergansers, 8 Common Goldeneye, and 2 Bufflehead (1 male and 1 female). The Bufflehead were exciting birds; they are considered to be one of the rarest wintering ducks in the Yukon, and this is the second year in a row that Tagish has been lucky enough to record them on the Christmas Bird Count.
The 2012 Tagish Christmas Bird Count had a total of 26 bird counters, with 13 being Group Members and 13 being Feeder Watchers. The counting period lasted from 9:00am to 6:00pm; the Feeder Watchers racked up a total of 23.6 hours of effort (time of each person’s feeder count period added together with other feeder count time periods), while the Group Members added up 12.25 hours of field effort. For group members, a total of 149.49km was travelled by foot, vehicle, skidoo, skis, and snowshoes. Temperatures ranged from a chilly -36C to a balmy -30C, and thankfully there was no wind. Expect for ice haze, the skies were clear and sunny. There was no precipitation experienced on the count.
Our list of birds seen goes as follows:
2 Bufflehead, 8 Common Goldeneye, 2 Common Mergansers, 1 Spruce Grouse, 3 Ptarmigan Species, 1 Gray Jay, 4 Black-billed Magpies, 8 Common Ravens, 20 Black-capped Chickadees, 20 Boreal Chickadees, 2 Juncos, 84 Pine Grosbeaks, 6 Red Crossbills, 79 Common Redpolls, and 2 Hoary Redpolls. We had a total of 15 bird species for the 2012 Tagish Christmas Bird Count.
Some special notes for the 2012 Tagish Christmas Bird Count include:
~This is the 2nd consecutive year in a row that Bufflehead, a rare wintering duck in the Yukon, has been recorded for the Tagish Christmas Bird Count.
~There were no reports of Mountain Chickadees. Tagish and Carcross report the highest numbers of Mountain Chickadees for the whole Yukon during Christmas Bird Count season; in Tagish the observed numbers on count day dropped from 8 individuals in 2011 to 0 in 2012. There have been only three reports of Mountain Chickadees at feeders in Tagish so far this winter. During the past few years since I started watching, many feeders had pairs of Mountain Chickadees coming daily.
~There were no Red-breasted Nuthatches recorded.
~There was a noticeable lack of Gray Jays reported. Only 1 individual was seen.
~All winter, Tagish residents including myself have noticed a dramatic difference in male – female ratios in Pine Grosbeaks. The adult and immature males far outnumber the females and female-type birds. The difference in gender ratio during the past few years that we have been monitoring winter bird populations has never been this substantial. One suggestion from the Yukon Bird Club as to why this may be is that it is possible the males stay up north while the majority of females and immature move further south for the winter. It is an interesting observation, and is being looked into around the Whitehorse area as well by members of the Yukon Bird Club.
~The Tagish CBC in 2012 held the Tagish CBC record for the coldest temperature recorded on the count: -36C. The lowest temperature recorded before 2012 during a Tagish Christmas Bird Count was -30C, in 2010.
Each year I look forward to the Tagish Christmas Bird Count, and it is an event that many other Tagish residents look forward to as well. The 2012 Tagish CBC was a success, once again, and I am grateful to all of the participants of the Christmas Bird Count for taking part in the count. The data that participants submit add greatly to our understanding of bird behavior and habits during the cold, dark, winter months of the Yukon. The Christmas Bird Counts usually discover migratory birds that have made the decision to stay in the Yukon and suffer the winter at a bird feeder or other constant food source. This year’s special over-wintering migratory bird for Tagish is a pair of Bufflehead. Again, thank you to everyone who participated in the 2012 Tagish Christmas Bird Count, and I hope to see you again next year!