Bird count pulls steady numbers

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Despite having to contend with public health restrictions, the 40th iteration of the Brandon Christmas Bird Count went ahead as planned on Sunday, with around 78 people taking part either at home or out in the field.

According to organizer Gillian Richards, this group managed to spot at least 35 different types of birds throughout this 24-hour period, which only represents a slight decline from the 38 species tallied during last year’s event.

However, Richards went on to reveal that a record number of people, 45, took part as "feeder watchers" this year, since she and other members of the Westman Naturalists were encouraging way more participants to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But at least 33 birders still got the opportunity to venture out into the field on Sunday, although this aspect of the bird count wasn’t the same kind of social experience that it has been in the past.

In order to abide by public health orders, Richards said these bird watchers were asked to either fly solo or wander around with members of their household.

"Usually we just pile into one car and go out and chat, so even if we don’t see any birds we’re still talking," she said on Monday.

"But this time … most people didn’t even go with anybody else. They just went on their own, and that’s not as much fun."

Still, Richards admits that there were some highlights during her trek on Sunday, since she managed to stumble across a rough-legged hawk near Westman Salvage, which is a rare sighting for this time of year.

"They usually come through in late fall," she wrote in a followup email on Tuesday.

"So they were a bit late, probably because of the mild weather."

Westman Naturalist member Glennis Lewis also had a productive Sunday, marking down 14 different species like the white-winged crossbill and Eurasian collared-dove as she explored Kirkcaldy Heights and Assiniboine Community College’s North Hill campus.

"I can’t quantify this, but I also think I noticed more feeders out in yards this year," Lewis said on Tuesday. "I can’t say for sure, but it just seemed that more people were feeding birds and possibly watching birds out of their windows, and so on."

Just like in past years, Brandon’s 40th Christmas Bird Count officially came to close with a big meeting, where participants listed off the different species they spotted throughout the day.

All of the data collected during this assembly will be submitted to a central database at Birds Canada, so that the non-profit group can help scientists and researchers can get a better look at bird populations across the country.

Of course, because of public gathering restrictions, the Westman Naturalists had to conduct their end-of-day meeting via Zoom this year, which made the tabulation process slightly more complicated for someone like Richards.

"Because usually everybody says what they’ve seen and it gets written down straight away," she said. "Whereas now it’s a question of going through a whole pile of emails."

Despite these shortcomings, Richards still considers the 2020 Brandon Christmas Bird Count to be a success.

Not only did the Westman Naturalists attract a similar rate of participation compared to last year, but the event also served as a good reminder to the roughly 185 people on their mailing list that the group is trying to organize more online activities throughout the winter.

"They’ll just be webinars or Zoom meetings instead of in-person events," Richards said. "And we actually have wider reach now, since we can get people from Winnipeg coming into our webinars and we can get speakers from elsewhere too, which is useful."

As of right now, Richards mentioned that the Westman Naturalists are still looking to round out this year’s Christmas Bird Count with a couple elusive species that they missed, including robins, waxwings, owls, unusual sparrows, merlins, goldfinches, grosbeaks and loons.