That was a question that kicked off this year’s annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 16.
“Early on it was starry skies with a bit of cloud, which is good owling weather,” said count organizer Sandra Gray. “Five teams went out to do some owling and they recorded a total of eight great horned owls, three barred and one northern Saw-Whet owl, which is fantastic. Any owls we can pull out of the darkness is fantastic.”
In all, she said, 47 birders were divided into nine teams to fan out across the area to record as many types of birds and numbers of birds as they could in a 24-hour period. In all, Gray said just under 31,000 birds were recorded, with 112 species.
“That’s on the high side,” Gray said. “Last year’s totals were an all-time high, with just under 35,000. We’ve had considerably less than that. The first year we had between 9,000 and 10,000, but of course we have more eyes and ears now.”
While there was no spectacularly unusual sighting, such as the Citrine wagtail that had Courtenay birders all a-twitter, but there was wood duck, a northern shoveler and eight ring-necked pheasants, which was up from zero last year.
Of particular interest to the birders, she said, were the 860 Trumpter swans in the area.
“We had quite a few people really enthusiastic about these giant, white birds,” Gray said. “There were quite a number at the mouth of the Little Qualicum River.”
Also of note, she said were 71 Brant geese, a turkey vulture and 156 ring-necked ducks.
The number of Canada geese recorded — 1,200 of them — was about the same number as last year and the year before.
“The number has gone up a little and down a little but they are staying about steady,” Gray said.
The information recorded by the count is forwarded to the Audubon Society, which uses the numbers garnered from counts all across North America, to determine how various populations of birds are rising or falling.
The event was ended with a potluck supper for all the birders who took part.