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The 46th annual Ecology North Christmas Bird Count saw many old flying friends and a few new species as hobbyists and amateurs hit the city on Dec. 29.

Bob Bromley, who oversaw the event and who has been involved since it was founded in 1973, said there were about 15 people who attended on count day. That number is a bit lower than usual, which often sees between 18 to 22 volunteers.

He noted that the official count takes place in an area of 15 miles in diameter around 50 Avenue and 50 Street as the central point. 

The Christmas bird count is divided up into sections throughout the city every year. Volunteers taking part in the one-day official count can do it by walking, snowmobiling, driving or other means. 
photo courtesy of Ute Schmid Jones

There were also other contributors who contributed information by phone or who participated in a week-long tracking of species – three days before and three days after count day.  

“We had a very good count despite the weather and we ended up with 15 species,” Bromley said, noting that bird count day saw weather conditions ranging from – 26 C to -27 C. With windchill, however, it often felt like it was down to -38 C. 

“We saw three additional species during the count week, some of which were very unusual species. One included one that we hadn’t seen before although that we knew that it winters here in small numbers and that is the Great Grey Owl.” 

In total, there were 2,860 individual birds reported during the bird count.

The Christmas Bird Count took place on Dec. 29, 2019

Bromley credited birder Reid Hildebrandt, a longtime annual participant, for locating birds in certain locations throughout the city. 

“Having one super keen and super qualified and super active birder who knows where birds are hanging out all winter long can make a difference and bring out a few species that we wouldn’t have normally observed,” Bromley said. 

Among other birds noted as “unusual species” included two snow buntings that don’t normally winter in Yellowknife. There were also two European Starlings found at the dump, Bromley said. 

“They have also been known to winter in Yellowknife and very much depended on people for food sources,” Bromley said. 

“Bill McDonald (whose namesake is on the William McDonald Middle School) had the first nest here in 1962. It was great to see a few starlings. It’s pretty amazing to see that they can winter here.”

The Willow Ptarmigan was noted for having an especially low count with only seven identified during the count.

“Another interesting thing was willow ptarmigan numbers,” Bromley said. “We have determined based from these counts that have been going on for over 30 years that they have a 10-year cycle to them. We are at an all-time low and we are at a lowest low for ptarmigans because we only counted seven. Our previous low was nine in the ’90s.”

Common Raven spotted on Dec. 29 Christmas bird count. There were 2618 individual common ravens counted out of the total 2860.
photo courtesy of Ute Schmid Jones

There were also two types of woodpeckers, with one Hairy Woodpecker spotted on bird count day and one Black Backed Woodpecker during the week.

Christmas Bird Count 2019

Common Raven 2,618
House Sparrow 91
Black-billed Magpie 53
Hoary Redpoll 24
Common Redpoll 13
Willow Ptarmigan 7
Black-capped Chickadee 4
Boreal Chickadee 4
Gray Jay 3
Snow Bunting 2
European Starling 2
Great Gray Owl 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Sharp-tailed Grouse 1
Spruce Grouse 1

Black-backed Woodpecker (spotted during count week)
American Robin (spotted during count week)
Bohemian Waxwing (noted during count week)

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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