Victoria birders keeping close watch this Christmas

The 115th annual Christmas Bird Count is Dec. 20 in Victoria.

Victoria birdwatchers are keeping a close eye out for the one that got away last Christmas.

Dec. 20 marks the 115th annual Christmas Bird Count.

“It’s the longest lasting citizen science project ever,” said Ann Nightingale, coordinator of the Victoria Christmas Bird Count.

Last year, 145 different kids of birds were spotted. Victoria holds the Canadian record at 154 different kinds of birds in one day in 2004.

However, even with 250 volunteers in the field watching for birds, one rare bird stayed out of sight of the counters last year.

Ken Orich was vising Victoria from Lethbridge last Christmas when he snapped a photo of a Redwing – a rare bird for Victoria. The Bird Count coordinators did not find out about the photo until March, when it was too late to add the bird to the 2013 count.

“This is an Asian vagrant that had never been recorded in Victoria before,” said Nightingale.

This year’s focus will be on getting more people reporting the birds they see in their yards.

“A lot of these rare birds will come to feeders,” said Nightingale. “Unless we get these feeder reports, we might never know about [them].”

Victoria has the highest number of participants out in the field every year, but on average there are only 35 people recording birds at their home feeders.

“We can’t control the birds. They’re here or they’re not. We can’t control the weather. But what we can influence is participation,” said Nightingale. “We’re trying to get 250 feeder watch reports.”

Although finding rare birds is a treat for birdwatchers, Nightingale said they are still interested in counting the common ones as well.

“If all you know are robins and crows, you can still send me how many robins and crows you had in your yard.”

Nightingale said the main purpose of the count is to “get a sense of the wintering populations of birds and the changes that are happening over time.”

Having been involved in the annual count since 2000, Nightingale has seen many changes in the kinds of birds that are seen in the area.

“There [are] some birds that were common back in 2000 that are no longer seen on every Christmas Bird Count, like ring-necked pheasants. There are some birds that were considered rare in 2000 that we now see most winters, like turkey vultures and white-throated sparrows.”

The Christmas Bird Count is done in over 2,000 locations across North America.

One community in particular is in direct competition with Victoria.

“In Canada, the top honours each year tend to go to either Victoria or Ladner, in terms of number of species seen.” said Nightingale. “We watch each other’s numbers pretty carefully. It’s bragging rights.”

To get involved with the Victoria Christmas Bird Count, contact Ann Nightingale at 250-514-6450 or motmot@shaw.ca, and keep an eye out for birds in your backyard on Dec. 20.