It’s a special time of year for Ann Nightingale – and not just because it’s the holidays.
December marks the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count in Greater Victoria. As part of the annual count, hundreds of residents head out into the community, including areas on the West Shore, to count the number and species of birds.
“There are over 50,000 people who participate in the Christmas Bird Count [across North America],” said Nightingale, a Central Saanich resident and self-proclaimed “bird nerd,” who has been involved in the count for the past two decades. “I’m always excited about it. It’s so great to see so many people in the community come out and participate.”
The count originally started in 1900 by Frank Chapman who wanted to see an alternative to the traditional Christmas hunt in which hunters went out and shot as many animal as they could – the majority of which were birds. Chapman wanted to maintain the competitiveness, but not at the expense of killing animals, and thus the Christmas Bird Count was born.
Locally, the Victoria bird count has been taking place since the 1950s. Volunteers are split into teams and assigned to cover a 15 kilometre diameter circle.
Last year, more than 200 birders across the region counted 75,000 birds. On the West Shore, hot spot bird-counting areas include Triangle Mountain, Esquimalt Lagoon, Mill Hill, Alberta Head and Langford Lake.
The count also allows bird-watchers to keep track of local populations. Nightingale said there are a number of birds that were counted in the region years ago, but are rarely seen now, such as the city and ruffed grouse, black scooter and western screech owls. But there are some that are starting to reappear such as the white sprouted sparrow, swan sparrows, Anna’s hummingbird and the barn owl.
On occasion rare birds can also be seen, such as the red wing or the turdus iliacus, that was spotted in the Strawberry Vale area in 2015, which Nightingale said normally lives in Europe and Asia and seems to have its “compass turned around,” and instead of flying south west for the winter, has been flying south east.
“When I’m out birding, I am connected to the environment. I feel like I am where I belong, sharing the space with the plants and animals that call that place home,” Nightingale said.
“I know that when I’m looking at the birds, they are looking back at me. If by recognizing and counting the birds, I can contribute to conserving them, so much the better.”
The Christmas Bird Count takes place on Saturday, Dec. 16 in Victoria, Langford and Colwood beginning at 8 a.m. There are also counts in Sidney, Central and North Saanich, and South Salt Spring on Sunday, Dec. 17, and in Metchosin and Sooke on Thursday, Dec. 28.