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Successful annual Christmas Bird count in High River

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The High River Christmas Bird Count (CBC) took place Dec. 15, with some alterations due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Basically these restrictions included less people and social distancing.

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Birders in town observed 46 bird species within a 7.5 mile radius circle centred on the Center Street bridge in High River.

“This is an above average count for the area, and additional species may be added as count rules allow birds seen three days before or three days after count day to be added to the list,” said Organizer of the CBC, Greg Wagner.

38 people counted and took photos of birds and tallied their results, which are sent to the National Audubon Society.

Highlights for the count included an injured American White Pelican at Frank Lake, a Tundra Swan along the Little Bow River on the east side of Montrose, two American Goldfinches and a Common Grackle in the western part of town, and a Brewer’s Blackbird northwest of town.

Some of the other birds seen included: Canada Goose, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Killdeer, American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven,  Black-capped Chickadee, Horned Lark, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Sparrow, House Finch, Common Redpoll, White-winged Crossbill, Dark-eyed Junco.

Over time, two factors contribute significantly to the total number of either waterfowl or irruptive winter finches seen and this year it was irruptive winter finches.

“There are several finch species, including Red and White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Hoary and Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin, who spend most of their time in Canada,” said Wagner.

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“This group also includes Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings. How far south they come is dependent on what the berry, cone and seed crop are in the north. Monitoring of the berry, cone and seed crop in the north this year, suggested that we would see a lot of finches in the south – and so we did.”

“Often times we have very large numbers of these species showing up. Redpolls are often indicative of this, with few to no birds seen in some winters and hundreds or thousands seen in winters with low seed production in the north.”

“We really didn’t see large numbers of these species this year, but they all showed up, and contributed to the number of species seen.”

The participants all were able to see some beautiful and even some rare species of birds, but this year a lot more precaution went into organizing the event.

Wagner had to make several adjustments to how the bird count was done this year because of COVID-19. He followed the guidelines that Phil Cram (Calgary CBC Coordinator), in consultation with Yousif Attia (National CBC Coordinator, Birds Canada) and others, put together for the Calgary count.

-The count was carried out in full compliance with applicable provincial and municipal public health guidelines covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

-Nobody was allowed to participate who was under mandatory quarantine or isolation or is exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID-19.

-Provincial health orders limit outdoor physical activities to ten people or fewer, For the High River Christmas Bird Count, no more than three people from different households birded together and they always maintained two metres distance from each other.

-No social gathering amongst birders at any time before, during or after the count.

Wagner said more people wanted to bird count than expected.

“It seems unnatural that a count coordinator would actually refuse participants,” he said.

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