Tagish Bridge was dusted in frost, holding the world on each side of Six-Mile River together. Glassy water flowed beneath it, slowly being overtaken by delicately patterned ice which was given a cool pink blush by the morning sun and wintery sky. It looked cold, but my car thermometer registered only -5C. A few participants were already waiting to begin the count though it was not quite 10:00am. Within the next 20 minutes 14 more keen field birders pulled into the parking lot including Cameron Eckert, Pam Sinclair, Jim Hawkings, and Adam Perrier – some of the territory’s biggest birders – 3 bright-eyed interested youth, and all of the Tagish regulars.
Tagish Bridge acts as the center of the 24km diameter count circle and is a natural meeting place. A few Pine Grosbeaks sang from the nearby treetops and a large family of 6 Gray Jays passed through. Looking south down the river, ducks began to emerge from the heat haze for a count of 7 Common Goldeneye and 7 Common Mergansers. During our scanning avid participants Dan Kemble and John Teertstra drove by towing a skidoo on their way to Jubilee Mountain for a day of searching for ptarmigan.
Once the bridge had nothing more to produce, people split up to begin a search for birds in other parts of the Tagish circle. The highway was covered by car-birder Rick Halliday, while the rest of us explored the waterfront and scattered subdivisions. I went with Cameron, Pam, Jim, Adam, Sara, and Fiona for a walk down Sydney Street which produced lots of grosbeaks, a couple of Mountain Chickadees, and our first “wooden” subspecies of Downy Woodpecker for the day.
A tip from Sara about a few White-crowned Sparrows over-wintering at her place sent us speeding for Tagish Estates, where a thorough search of the yard turned up a Lincoln’s Sparrow…. a much better bird than we were expecting! While White-crowned Sparrows are considered rare in the winter, this Lincoln’s Sparrow was even rarer; a 3rd winter record for the territory. A Fantastic find!
We continued on to new locations to find nothing until entering the California Beach subdivision. Two feeders were busy with grosbeaks and chickadees, while Tagish Lake and the river mouth produced 50 Common Goldeneye and 1 Common Merganser. A scan of the treetops for Bald Eagle was fruitless, and we soon decided to go back to the estates to have another look for the White-crowned Sparrows. This time 5 Common Ravens were present, along with 2 cats – too scary a situation for the White-crowned Sparrows, but apparently not for the Lincoln’s Sparrow which was still picking at seeds from Lambsquarter plants.
By the time we finished here, my stomach was devouring my insides and my feet were blocks of ice, so Sara and I headed home. Cameron and Pam checked the bridge for an eagle one more time, while Jim finished exploring the estates on foot. Later on after our annual CBC Christmas party back home I went out owling in the dark, adding another species to the list: Great Horned Owl.
Overall the 6th Tagish Christmas Bird Count was a huge success once again, with 18 field participants spending 23.5 total hours walking, skiing, snowmobiling, and driving a sum of 302 kilometers, finding 17 bird species. There were 11 feeders being watched by another 25 participants for a total of 45 hours, recording 14 species + 2 unconfirmed species. The highlights included the Lincoln’s Sparrow in Tagish Estates, 40 Willow Ptarmigan seen by Dan and John up Jubilee Mountain, 6 Juncos in the field and at feeders, a very high winter count of 50 Common Goldeneye in the river, a lone Northern Hawk Owl seen by Sunny Peterson behind Tagish Estates, and a high count of 21 Mountain Chickadees at feeders across the community. This rivals last years record-high count of 22! The weather through the day was beautiful despite the cloud cover with no wind or precipitation, and temperatures ranged between -5C and -15C. The count finished with a wonderful party put on by my Mom where everyone got to warm up by the roaring woodstove with delicious food and drinks. Another count completed, another big success.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this years Christmas Bird Count in Tagish, especially to the people who drove all the way from Whitehorse and Mount Lorne, as well as to Dan and John who spent the day up a mountain searching for ptarmigan!
Our list of birds: