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Christmas Bird Count set for Saturday in Hay River

This common grackle - a kind of blackbird - has been recently spotted in Hay River. It may be one of the species seen during the annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 19.
Photo courtesy of Gary Vizniowski

A date has been set for the annual Christmas Bird Count in the Hay River area.

The local version of the international conservation effort will be held on Dec. 19.

Gary Vizniowski, the compiler for the Christmas Bird Count in Hay River, said that, as usual, it will be the first Saturday in the time period during which the count must be held.

Vizniowski is expecting about the same number of species to be spotted as last year, when 15 different kinds of birds were seen.

"We should be able to get that again this year," he said, although he noted there may be more because some birds are around later into the winter than usual.

One of those species is the common grackle, a type of blackbird.

"Right now, we've got two common grackles that have been around all fall," said Vizniowski. "I've got one at my house."

A couple of robins have also been spotted around town.

Plus, Vizniowski noted he recently heard there are still a couple of dark-eyed juncos in town.

That species is common in the summer, he said. "But they should have been gone a couple of months ago."

As for why the warm-weather species are still around, Vizniowski said that's hard to say.

"It might be the temperature," he said, noting it was unseasonably warm early in December.

Vizniowski is still looking for volunteers to help with the Christmas Bird Count.

"I picked up a couple of more last year and I think I've got a couple of more this year again," he said. "We're going to have a lot of feeder watchers and there's going to be three or four of us that are looking at different parts of town."

Last year, 10 volunteers helped out with the effort.

Normally, some counters would look around the Hay River Reserve, but Vizniowski said no one from Hay River will be going onto the reserve this year. That is out of respect for K'atlodeeche First Nation's request that people stay off the reserve – unless going to the Ehdah Cho Store – because of concerns about Covid-19.

Instead, he is hoping to have someone who lives on the reserve conduct a count there.

Vizniowski noted that all those involved in the count will follow public health guidelines concerning Covid-19.

"We don't have a big meeting beforehand to discuss things. We do it over the phone," he said. "Most of them are feeder watchers, so they're just looking out their living room window counting birds."

A Christmas Bird Count has taken place in the Hay River area in most years since the 1970s.

The count is part of an international conservation initiative that began 120 years ago.

Each year, Birds Canada and the National Audubon Society in the United States co-ordinate more than 2,500 counts to collect information on how winter birds are faring.

The count must be held sometime between Dec. 14 and Jan. 6.

In the Hay River area, it takes place within an unchanging designated circle, which is 24 km in diameter and centred near the Hay River Regional Health Centre.