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Posted: January 9, 2017

Deep freeze makes for great birding

With some ‘degree’ of trepidation, naturalists checked the forecasted temperatures for January 4. Nevertheless, we set the alarm clocks.

Switching on the lights, and piling on the layers, we knew that the morning would be uncomfortable for ‘them’ and us. Assembling at the Platzl in Kimberley, 15 naturalists, from Cranbrook, Mayook, Fernie and Kimberley received our assignments and tackled the 117th Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Turns out, it was a great day for birding.

Four teams headed out into the four quadrants of the familiar ‘circle’, attempting to identify and record every bird. Yes, it was chilly, –32c, and birds were scarce at first. But soon we found some active, well-stocked feeders and the bright sun made it seem warmer.

EagleOffKootenayWith its back to us, a Bald Eagle surveyed the frozen Kootenay River, woodpeckers pecked at suet and a striking Black-billed Magpie perched in the willows. Our lists grew.

By midday, the temperature struggled up to the mild side of –20; the Rockies were outstanding. There was little or no wind and the traffic was quiet, so ‘birding by ear’ was productive. Occasionally, Red Crossbills chirped, woodpeckers drummed and Jays announced themselves.

Around 5 p.m., it was time to reconvene at the Marysville Hotel, to feed, re-hydrate and swap stories. All four teams acknowledged the privilege of contributing to some genuine citizen science.

A crested, greyish-blue bird, with bright blue wings and tail, barred and tipped with black and white, distinguishes the Blue Jay (pictured above). His noisy ‘jay-jay’ always proclaims his presence. Never remaining long in one place, he is on the leap constantly, with a dash and an impudent assurance that is amusing. When cold, as on ‘count day’, he was so fluffed that he appeared greyer than blue.

This increasingly common, large songbird, is known for its intelligence and complex social system with tight family bonds. The male is a devoted husband and father, who shows his best traits in his family circle. He reminds one of certain human beings who take excellent care of their own, but who are neither good neighbours nor desirable citizens.

The Blue Jay is a member of the same family to which the crow belongs, and while totally different in appearance, resembles him in his cleverness, his fearlessness and his audacious insolence. Cautious and silent in the vicinity of its nest, away from the nest he is bold and noisy.

In winter, Jays eat the eggs of the tent caterpillar, moth larvae, waste grains, nuts and seeds. In the east, their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees following the last glacial period. Destroying grasshoppers late in the season, feeding on hibernating insects and their eggs, and eating beetles and weevils provide it’s best service to man. The wild fruits it selects are of no economic value.

The severest criticism against the species is the destruction of other birds and their eggs. Recently, however, extensive studies have shown that only one per cent of Jays had evidence of birds or eggs in their stomachs.

Blue Jays frequently mimic the calls of calls of hawks. These calls may provide information to other Jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present.

The Blue Jay is partially migratory, withdrawing several hundred kilometres from the extreme northern parts of it’s range. In recent years, these Jays have expanded their range into northeastern and southeastern parts of B.C. Bird feeders have probably encouraged expansion into western North America; this species is well adapted to human environments.

The Results

This was the 25th Kimberley Count. Forty-two species is around average.

It was a good year for the Bald Eagle, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Pileated Woodpecker and House Finch.

Common Goldeneye                          19

Common Merganser                         1

Ruffed Grouse                                   4

turkeylineWild Turkey                                       66

Golden Eagle                                      1

Northern Goshawk                            1

Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk       1

Bald Eagle                                          14

Red-tailed Hawk                                1

Rock Pigeon                                       28

Eurasian Collared-Dove                   18

Northern Pygmy Owl                        1

Downy Woodpecker                         24

Hairy Woodpecker                            18

Pileated Woodpecker                       14

Northern Flicker. All About Birds image
Northern Flicker. All About Birds image

Northern Flicker                                33

Northern Shrike                                1

Steller’s Jay                                        8

Blue Jay                                              5

Black-billed Magpie                          18

Clark’s Nutcracker                            33

American Crow                                  57

Common Raven                                 67

Black-capped Chickadee                  200

Mountain Chickadee                         96

Red-breasted Nuthatch                    28

White-breasted Nuthatch                4

American Dipper                               5

Golden-crowned Kinglet                  6

Townsend’s Solitaire                         9

American Robin                                 5

Bohemian Waxwing                          253

Bohemian Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwing

Snow Bunting                                       5

American Tree Sparrow                   7

Dark-eyed Junco                               24

Song Sparrow                                       6

Red-winged Blackbird                      8

House Finch                                       195

Red Crossbill                                      10

Pine Siskin                                         12

Common Redpoll                               10

American Goldfinch                          26

Evening Grosbeak                             15

Thanks to roving counters and feeder watchers.

See Cranbrook Christmas Bird Count results

See Fernie Christmas Bird Count results

Lead image: Blue Jay by Lyle Grisedale

Submitted by Daryl Calder on behalf of Rocky Mountain Naturalists

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