Surprises all part of annual Christmas Bird Count

A rustic bunting is one of the most incredible birds to be seen during Homer’s annual Christmas Bird Count.-Photo by Tami Reiser

A rustic bunting is one of the most incredible birds to be seen during Homer’s annual Christmas Bird Count.-Photo by Tami Reiser

The Christmas Bird Count is a very special day for birders. One whole day devoted to birding — sunup to sundown, working in a team to count all the birds in the Homer area. Then, after dark, meeting with the other participants to compile what was seen. Finally a big, warm potluck meal further increases the enjoyment of the day as  the joys of birding are celebrated and all are nourished in body and spirit.

Birders always hope to find most of what they call the “usual suspects” which are the species that winter here, and it is reassuring to find that most of these species are indeed here again each year. But then, quite often it seems, there are unusual, and in some instances extraordinary sightings on this special day. 

In the past 12 years the most incredible bird was probably the rustic bunting in 2013. It is an Asiatic bird and having one here in Homer for the Christmas Bird Count defied all odds.

Other years, other amazing birds: emperor goose (2011),  mountain bluebird (2009), purple finch (2006), crested auklet (2003). One bird, although common here in summer, was here in 2007 way too late: a yellow warbler. There was the warbler, bright golden-yellow, glowing in the sunshine … but sitting on a spruce tree covered with snow. Observed by birders who were in heavy jackets, hats, gloves, not shirtsleeves.

And last year in Beluga Slough there was an American coot, which for weeks had been easy to see from the bike path along the Slough because it came out frequently to forage near the same patch of grass every day. A coot had been seen here maybe once every 10 years, never before at Christmastime.

If any of this sounds inviting to you, the Christmas Bird count will be Saturday, Dec. 19, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. If you are a new birder, you will be in a team with more experienced birders. Every pair of eyes is important and we need your help. To volunteer or for more information call Dave Erikson, 235-3487, or Lani Raymond, 399-9477.

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