CBC 2003-4
by: Mike Lushington  

            One of the more pleasant and anticipated "traditions" of the Holiday Season in recent years has been the running of the annual Christmas Bird Count. For a number of years now, Pat McGorlick and I have organized the Dalhousie count. This winter, we ran it on December 28th.

            Christmas Bird Counts have a long and increasingly honourable tradition in North America. They began more than one hundred years ago as responses to the older and more savage pastime of taking a gun afield just after Christmas to shoot everything in sight in order to win some sort of prize as "top gun" of the day. In that time, CBCs have added huge amounts of information on bird populations and movements, as well as changes in those demographics.

            The concept is simple. Each count encompasses a formal circle with a radius of about 15 kilometres. The Dalhousie count is actually centred at Selwood Corners in Balmoral; from there it radiates back into the Southeast, west up through Balmoral and across to Dundee, northwest to Dalhousie Junction, east through the town itself and on down to Lower Charlo. It also extends out into the Restigouche Estuary and the Upper Bay of Chaleur, but until we find someone with a seaworthy boat and the time to run it during a count period, that part of the circle remains only "mare incognita" - the unknown sea. Someone like Pat or me agrees to organize volunteers to scan as much of that area as possible in one day during a three week period over the holidays. Different coordinators do things in their own ways: in this instance, Pat organizes the feeder watchers and I, the field trips.

            Over the years, volunteers have become faithful to certain sections of the circle. My most appreciated groups have always been those that Bob Gillis organizes to walk the Eel River Trail. Every year, these hardy souls hike that trail, knowing that they are unlikely to see many birds, but counting diligently those that they do see. They have even taken to counting cows and UFO's, I suspect, to have something to talk about at the dinner we always have immediately afterwards.This is always the group that seems to have the most fun, even though one of them slipped and fell on the icy trail this year.

            I had expected count results to be low this year. We had had a lot of wind and unsettled weather. As well it had been mild and there was little ice. In other words, there were none of the conditions that usually encourage birds to settle in and be available for easy counting. Somewhat surprisingly, then, we ended up with a total species count for the day of 38, one more than in the previous year and five more than two years ago. Total numbers of individuals were down, though, mainly as a result of the open water that encouraged birds to scatter all over the Bay rather than in a few sheltered locations. to cite just one example, the Dalhousie Count always finds the largest numbers in the entire Maritimes of a very pretty seaduck called Barrow's goldeneye. Last year, with heavy ice conditions, we had nearly 350 of them, mainly off the Bon Ami Rocks; this year, the number was down to about 150. I know that there are many more of them out there, but we simply couldn't see them.

            Each year has its surprises, as well as its expected results. I suppose that this is what keeps drawing us back to do the annual counts. That, and the camaraderie that always ensues as a result of having spent another most enjoyable day outdoors in this very beautiful part of the world.


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