5th Annual Tagish Christmas Bird Count

River Ice

River Ice

The 5th Annual Tagish Christmas Bird Count took place this year on December 22nd, Sunday. For field birders, the day started at 10:00am at Tagish Bridge which acts as the center point of the count circle. Despite earlier weather predictions of -40C and wind, the temperature low for the day was -15C with the high being -7C. It was perfectly calm; the water on the river looked slate-grey and glassy. It was almost completely overcast (85-95%), but enough light was let through the clouds to illuminate the surrounding landscape with a beautiful soft glow. There was no precipitation until late in the afternoon when a light snow began to fall. It was a gorgeous morning and held good tidings for the rest of the day!

Eight participants met me and my Dad at the bridge – five being enthusiastic Tagish residents (Vicki, Rebecca, Catherine, Louise, and Paul) and three being dedicated birders from Whitehorse (Cameron, Pam, and Nick). Two more keen participants did their yearly routine trek up Jubilee Mountain on a search for ptarmigan (one Tagish resident, John, along with Dan Kemble, the Carcross CBC leader), a knowledgeable Tagish/Carcross resident scoured the highway (Rick), and another Tagish resident joined up with the group later on (Ron). There were 13 field birders (including myself) that put in 15 hours and 50 minutes of effort altogether, along with 22 feeder watchers at 13 different houses that put in an amazing 49 hours and 52 minutes of effort.

Field Birders Scattered Across the Bridge

Field Birders Scattered Across the Bridge

We started off with the usual search around Tagish Bridge, the gas station area, and the campground. Two Ravens were some of the first birds of the count, as well as a Hairy Woodpecker. A lone Bald Eagle made it’s appearance flying leisurely upriver, and the Whitehorse birders spotted the count’s only Junco living it up in an exposed gravel patch in the day use area. Common Mergansers, Common Redpolls, and Pine Grosbeaks were also seen. After the whole area had been given a good going-over, we all gathered together to sort out who would be splitting up to search new areas in Tagish. We split up into four groups and drove/walked through Tagish to check out Secret Valley, the highway, the marshy meadow behind the gas station, Sydney Street, Tagish River Road, Tagish Road, Tagish Estates, the river lookout, the dump, California Beach, and a bit of Taku Subdivision. My group consisted of myself, Dad, Cameron, Pam, and Nick; we birded the estates, the river lookout, the dump, and California Beach. Altogether, the group members drove 147km, snowmobiled 20km, walked 12.5km, and snowshoed 3km.

California Beach

Counting Ducks at California Beach

Our totaled list of birds is as follows:

18 Common Goldeneye

14 Common Mergansers

1 Bald Eagle

1 Great Horned Owl

2 Spruce Grouse

3 Willow Ptarmigan

17 Common Ravens

18 Black-billed Magpies

20 Gray Jays

1 Hairy Woodpecker

10 Red-breasted Nuthatches

39 Boreal Chickadees

70 Black-capped Chickadees

22 Mountain Chickadees

3 Snow Buntings

1 Dark-eyed Junco

419 Common Redpolls

4 Hoary Redpolls

113 Pine Grosbeak

73 White-winged Crossbills

26 Red Crossbills

X# Chickadee species

X# Redpoll species

X# Crossbill species

= 21 species

Snow Bunting - a Count Highlight!

Snow Bunting – a Count Highlight!

In the end, the field birders saw 19 species while the feeder watchers saw 11 species. All told, the Tagish Christmas Bird Count produced 21 species – a new record for the community that completely demolishes our previous record-high count of 14 species in 2012.

My Group's Count Mammal: A Snowshoe Hare.

Our CBC Mammal: A Snowshoe Hare.

The Tagish Christmas Bird Count highlights for 2013 include the 3 Snow Buntings (spotted by ‘eagle-eye’ Nick at the dump), 1 Junco (seen by the Whitehorse birders at Tagish Bridge in the parking lot), 3 Willow Ptarmigan (flushed by Paul Dabbs on the lake shore behind the gas station – these are the first ptarmigan to be species confirmed on a Tagish CBC), the Common Goldeneye and Mergansers (few ducks overwinter in the Yukon, and Tagish Narrows seems to be a winter hotspot), the total count of 22 Mountain Chickadees (2 in the field and 20 at various Tagish feeders), and the 4 Hoary Redpolls (Brian’s feeder). Though we had what was probably the most beautiful count on record with the warm temperatures, lack of fog and wind, and wonderful scenery, it was not the warmest one we have experienced. The warmest Tagish CBC temperature was -3C in 2009. We had the same number of field birders this year as last year in -37C temperatures, but considerably many more feeder watchers; 22 this year compared to 13 last year.

I think this was the best count we have had in Tagish yet due to the great weather, spectacular scenery, the high number of birds, and the wonderful people participating. Thank you very much to everyone who participated this year! A special shout-out to Dan and John who spent their day up a mountain for us again this year in a search for ptarmigan, to Cameron, Pam, and Nick for driving out from Whitehorse to help us in our count (that Junco would have gone unnoticed!!), and to my Mom, who made a ton of great food for the cold and hungry field birders again this year.

Pam, Cameron, Nick, and my Dad looking for birds at California Beach

Pam, Cameron, Nick, and my Dad

A Note:

The Mountain Chickadees have been experiencing some interesting trends: the previous high count for Tagish was 10 in 2009, after which we observed decreasing numbers and finally none last year. This year they seem to be experiencing a population explosion – 22 Mountain Chickadees in this count hold the new CBC high record. Through a study I have been conducting during November and this month I have been seeing extraordinarily high numbers of these chickadees not only in Tagish but in other areas as well. My data collection period ends on the last day of December. If you live in the Yukon and have been seeing Mountain Chickadees at your feeder, please comment or email me at beakingoff@gmail.com, or email the Yukon Bird Club at yukonbirdclub@gmail.com. I would like an accurate high count of the Mountain Chickadees coming to your feeder, a count of the Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees at your feeders, a description of the habitat around your feeders, the name of the community in which your feeders are located, and I would also like to know whether or not you have seen Mountain Chickadees at your feeders in previous years. No personal information is required. Thank you very much! This information will be used to try to determine a cause(s) of the population boom we are seeing, and I will be publishing a final report here on my blog.

Mountain Chickadee; Notice it's Distinctive White Eyebrow.

Mountain Chickadee; Notice it’s Distinctive White Eyebrow.

Cannot believe we have already completed the 5th annual Christmas Bird Count for Tagish; this count is already half a decade old!

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