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Record number of species spotted in annual Ecology North Christmas bird count

For 47 years, Yellowknifers have been gathering during the holiday season to tally the likes of ravens, finches and ptarmigan for the annual Ecology North Christmas bird count. 

This year, the event took place on Jan. 2, with a three-day window before and after the count for birders to participate online. 

A white-winged crossbill was among the 16 species spotted at Ecology North's 2020/2021 Yellowknife Christmas bird count. photo courtesy of Marcus Jackson

Like many of the participants, Reid Hildebrandt has been attending the count for most of his life. This year, he spread his wings as the event’s coordinator, taking over for longtime organizer Robert Bromley. Hildebrandt said the day went “even better than I could have expected.”

“It was a good count and a good day,” he said. 

This year’s 2020-21 bird count tied the record for most ever species spotted, 16. 

It was also the first year the group observed a red-breasted nuthatch – a small, chickadee-like bird, Hildebrandt explains, seen in Old Town.

Participants also spotted high numbers of finches, mid-winter pine grosbeaks, and record numbers of bohemian waxwings 130 and ravens 3,093 mostly seen at the dump.

Willow ptarmigans, Canada jays and house sparrows all had low counts. 

Katherine Thomas, education program manager with Ecology North, also helped to run the event. She said she was pleased with the 13 people who came out for the in-person activity, especially since this was one of the coldest bird counts to date. 

Thomas also commended the counters for having maintained appropriate social distance and wearing their masks indoors. 

Participants of this year's bird count spotted a record-breaking number of bohemian waxwings, pictured. photo courtesy of Marcus Jackson

As one of the few birding events for Yellowknifers, many participants of the Christmas bird count are regulars at the annual event. They generally already have the areas of town where they like to do their spotting, and take a mentoring role for newcomers, Thomas said.  

Hildebrandt intends to continue leading the flock for next year’s bird count. 

“It doesn’t take a lot of effort to run, and it’s something that I really enjoy,” he said.