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Once again this year, Hay River and area will be the site of a Christmas Bird Count.

The count – part of an international conservation initiative that began 120 years ago – is set for Dec. 14.

Gary Vizniowski, who has been organizing the count in Hay River and compiling the results since about 2005, said 14-16 species have normally been spotted in past years.

A Bohemian waxwing is a common winter bird that is usually spotted in the Hay River area during the annual Christmas Bird Count. Photo courtesy of Gary Vizniowski

“And that’s kind of what I expect,” he said. “Any out of range or anything else is kind of a bonus.”

In the last count on Dec. 15 of last year, 13 species of birds were spotted in the Hay River area, and the total number of birds observed on count day was 564.

A Christmas Bird Count has taken place in the Hay River area since the 1970s, except for a few years in the early 2000s.

Volunteers keep a record of the number of species and the total number of birds they spot on count day, plus the three days before and the three days afterwards.

There might be a totally unexpected species spotted.

“When you get everybody out looking, you never know if there’s something unusual,” said Vizniowski. “Most times with the bird count, you’ll see birds that are here during the summer and have stayed late. Like it’s not unusual for us to see a robin during the bird count. They’re plentiful in the summer, but by October they should be gone. Now and then you see them later on.”

If there are no unusual birds spotted, counting the number of birds that should be common to the area is still valuable, especially for species with numbers in decline.

Vizniowski pointed to the evening grosbeak as an example.

“They’re a species in decline across the Prairies and in the West,” he said. “When I started this almost 15 years ago, we used to see a lot of them. I don’t think we’ve had any for the last couple of years. But now this year, two of our spotters have gotten four or five at their feeders…. They should be here for the winter, so hopefully we’ll get them on the count.”

The count in Hay River takes place within an unchanging designated circle, which is 24 km in diameter and centred on the communication towers south of the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

On average, eight or nine people participate in the count.

“And the more the merrier,” said Vizniowski. “We need them to be able to identify the birds they’re seeing. And if not, they can get a picture of them and we can identify them from a picture.”

A Christmas Bird Count must be held sometime between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

Each year, Birds Canada and the National Audubon Society help co-ordinate and support the efforts of more than 2,500 counts across Canada and the United States, as well as in Latin America, the Caribbean and some Pacific Islands.The data collected contributes valuable long-term information on how winter birds are faring, both locally and across the country.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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