BOW VALLEY – Proving birds of a feather stick together, a group of nature enthusiasts will be flocking to the Bow Valley in December for the annual Banff-Canmore Christmas bird count.
Armed with his camera and binoculars, Canmore co-ordinator Ethan Denton, 16, said the count is always exciting because the Bow Valley makes for an incredibly unique area for birding because of the mountains, Banff hot springs and border with British Columbia.
“We often get summer birds that stay really late,” he said. “In the spring, we’re the first to get migrants like osprey – we’re the first in the province to get a lot of stuff.”
Denton has been bird counting since he was five and began participating in the Canmore side of the count five years ago.
He said the Canmore segment of the count has been split into 12 areas. Denton added that birders can request areas to cover and if they would like to go with an expert.
“There’s no limit to how many people we can take,” he said. “You go out and count all the birds that you can.”
The Christmas Bird Count is always a great experience, Denton said, adding that he looks forward to the event every year.
“Nothing beats getting out there and seeing the birds,” he said. “Everyone in the birding community is really great and I find that they are generally really welcoming.”
The popularity of the event has taken flight over the last few years, Banff bird count co-ordinator Heather Dempsey said.
“The participation from the community has been overwhelming,” Dempsey said. “It’s probably doubled in size in the last five years.”
Last year the group saw a record number of 95 participants, 50 different species and 5,968 individual birds.
Dempsey said she enjoys participating in the bird count because it is an opportunity to get outside and immerse one’s self in nature.
“It’s tuning in, paying attention to what’s out there,” Dempsey said. “I’m there for seeing the big picture scenery, I’m looking for birds, I’m finding animal tracks, you see wildlife.”
Dempsey has been participating in the bird count since the 1980s and has seen the bird population in the Bow Valley fluctuate over the years. She said this leads to exciting discoveries at each bird count.
“The big thing is you're always surprised about something – you never know what you’re going to get,” Dempsey said. “It could be a new species [to the area], it could be the lack of birds, and it could be the environmental conditions.”
Dempsey cited how last year rich mountain ash trees overloaded with berries drew almost 2,000 Bohemian waxwings to the Bow Valley.
“They’re the prettiest winter birds,” Dempsey said, adding that the bird count serves as a great opportunity to check in and see how her favourite birds are doing.
“Nuthatches are something I just love seeing,” Dempsey said. “Even things like waterfowl, if there’s any open water, it’s nice to see that there are some ducks on the pound.”
The annual Christmas bird count is hosted by the Bow Valley Naturalists and will be taking place on Saturday, Dec. 14 from sunrise to sunset in a designated 24-kilometre circle, Dempsey said people are invited to attend the event for an hour, a half-day or the entire event.
“Whatever you can fit in,” she said. “We know that it’s a busy time of year.”
It has been thrilling to see people engaging in the count, she said, especially given that it is one of the busiest times of the year.
The birders are hoping for good warm weather that encourages people to come out and count.
“When its windy nobody wants to come out,” Dempsey said. “Whether you have feathers or a down jacket on.”
The only tool one needs for the day are binoculars, she added, although participants are encouraged to bring their cameras as well.
Dempsey recommends dressing warm and anticipating the weather to be a little colder than expected, especially because groups move in fits and starts, so can be easy to catch a chill.
“We try as much as we can to accommodate newcomers,” Dempsey said. “We want to make sure it’s a very positive event – We try to set everyone up for success.”
Teams will work together to catalogue birds in the Bow Valley in an engaging citizen science event, she said. The data collected over the day will be analyzed by the Bow Valley Naturalists and submitted to the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada.
The Banff-Canmore bird count is one of hundreds taking place across the Americas from the Canadian Territories to the Caribbean and everywhere in between.
The local bird count area includes the Town of Banff west to Vermilion Lake and the Town of Canmore east to the Trans-Canada Highway and 1A Highway intersection.
To sign up send an email to Dempsey at email@example.com or Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Bow Valley Naturalists website bowvalleynaturalists.org for more information. Dempsey said she recommends signing up as far in advance as possible so the best group combinations can be created.
“Come out for a pleasant day tuning into your backyard, your neighbourhood,” Dempsey said.