Hiking around: The Port Alberni Christmas Bird Count

LJW2_1459Dave and I used our cross-country skills and knowledge of the local trails to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count this year, this past December 30th. This was the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count in North America, and the 25th year that it has taken place in Port Alberni.

The way it works is that each location (usually a town) has a circle with a 15 km radius drawn around it: this is the area in which the count takes place. Someone needs to organize the count, to make sure that different groups don’t go to the same places (so the same birds do not get counted twice).

LJW2_1492Dave had taken me out to the Somass Bird Sanctuary, an estuary with lots of marshland, grassland, bush, forest, and open water, at the top of Alberni Inlet (straight across from town) the day before the count. He’s been saying for over a year he wanted to take me there – I’m glad he finally did! We saw so many species there – there is a raised boardwalk over the marsh, which makes for great viewing. A highlight was a short-eared owl, circling low over us, hunting (we kept a close eye on little Tank!).

Canada geese - subspecies occidentalis, I think.

Canada geese on the Somass Estuary – subspecies occidentalis, I think.

So that evening we contacted Sandy McRuer (operator of Vancouver Island Nature Tours/Rainbird Excursions), the Port Alberni Bird Count organizer. He had most areas around town already covered, so we offered to go hiking further out of town, along our “usual” route up Copper Mountain. This would take us up to the high country, then down to the inlet, then back up through the forest, then down again – through a variety of habitat.

We didn’t see as many birds on the inlet as we had hoped – we had expected a variety of ducks, as well as cormorants, loons, and perhaps some shortbirds. But, even so, we saw a total of 23 bird species that day, including two that no one else in Port Alberni had seen on the count (a sooty grouse, and a brown creeper – so we contributed two of Port Alberni’s total 89 species counted for December 30, 2012).  We’ve become so fired up about birdwatching that we headed back to the estuary the next day, too – all together we saw 50 different species over four days (and a very cute raccoon family).

View up the Alberni Inlet on bird count day.

View up the Alberni Inlet on bird count day.

Mallards down at the inlet.

Mallards down at the inlet.

So here are a few of our pix from the last week or two – most of them not amazing quality, but very useful for us as ID shots: taking the photos home, so we can look up and identify the birds we saw that day, and get better at identifying them in the field.

We are totally into doing this next year. Sandy has already assigned us our route. We told him we wanted something tough and remote, something that is hard to get to but where we are likely to see species that the other counters are not likely to find. So he is sending us to an estuary across the inlet, in search of shorebirds (mainly birds from the sandpiper family). We can either hike in, or kayak in. Fun!

Not a great pic - but good enough to ID a new species to us once we got home: northern shrike.

Not a great pic – but good enough for us to ID a new species to us once we got home: northern shrike.

Northern pintails with mallard ducks, on hte estuary.

Northern pintails with mallard ducks, on the estuary. (Another species that we ID’d from the photos later, at home)

And this... a pair of bald eagles on the power lines above the Somass Estuary.

And this… a pair of bald eagles on the power lines above the Somass Estuary.

American wigeon on Kitsuksis Creek

American wigeon on Kitsuksis Creek

Now how cute is that!

Now how cute is that! Young raccoons at the Somass Estuary.

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  1. Active rest days when training: Our favourite winter route, Port Alberni’s Somass Estuary Bird Sanctuary | Dave and Jackie run

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