Christmas bird count: Who stole the mallards?

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune 

File photo - Mallards normally number in the thousands in Mud Bay in winter.

File photo - Mallards normally number in the thousands in Mud Bay in winter.

Kachemak Bay Birders counted 57 species of birds seen and recorded by the evening of Dec. 15, with 4,027 individual birds.
But no mallards.
“Everyone has noticed that there haven’t been many (mallards) around lately and this count reflects the truth in that,” said birder Lani Raymond.
Normally, the mallards winter in Kachemak Bay, but when it’s cold they’ll stay on the south side of the bay at China Poot, birder Dave Erikson added. Even though there was little ice in Mud Bay by mid December, the mallards hadn’t returned. At times, the Christmas count finds over 3,000 mallards in Mud Bay.
“It was just the weather. They must have thought that ice was still there, though a storm last week broke it up and took out the ice from Mud Bay,” Erikson said.
A couple of other common birds also weren’t seen, like Steller’s Eider and the horned grebe, although they are around. And Barrow’s goldeneye was among the missing on count day.
This was the 113th year of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, a chance for local people in towns across America to track their bird populations. In Homer, the Kachemak Bay Birders cover the Homer Spit, Baycrest Hill and out to East End Road. Home bird feeders are also monitored on the designated day.
This year found a surprisingly high number of ring-necked pheasants at 75 birds. Pheasants aren’t native to Homer, and the high count indicates they are successfully breeding here, Erikson said.
They also counted a high number of pigeons and about 1,000 northwestern crows.
“It concerns me that there continues to be a lot of northwestern crows. They eat a lot of the ash berries that robins and Bohemian waxwings use for food, and they are aggressive birds,” Erikson said.
Erikson has counted birds in Homer for 36 years and is a leader as the Kachemak Bay Birders conduct citizen science projects documenting populations. He said in the early days, crows lived on the other side of the bay. They would feed on the blue mussels.
“They were not really residents at this side. They breed on this side now, and hit every Dumpster in town. They’re a total nuisance,” Erikson said. “They’re good at teaching their young how to make use of other food sources, like they’ve taught their offspring how to eat french fries.”
The art of birding attracted a lot of new recruits this year, with 35 participants. But Erikson would like to see more young people taking up the practice and knowledge. It concerns him that younger generations will lack the knowledge of their native populations if they don’t get involved.
“There was a record, or near-record number, of participants and although it was chilly, at least we didn’t have a snowstorm or white-out conditions and were able to count until dusk,” Raymond said.
One highlight of the count was spotting a yellow-shafted northern flicker, which is a woodpecker, on Kachemak Drive.
The tally included greater scaup, harlequins, surf scoters, white winged scoters, long-tailed duck, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, common mergansers, red-breasted mergansers, pacific loons, common loons, yellow-billed loons, red necked grebes, pelagic cormorant, sharp shinned hawk, northern goshawk, rock sandpiper and a hairy woodpecker.
There was a possible sighting of a great blue heron above the beach, just below Wasabi’s. This was unconfirmed and not counted. There was also an unconfirmed sighting of a Townsend’s Solitare and that is still being checked out.

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Posted by on Dec 26th, 2012 and filed under More News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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