Juneau birders spot 70 species during Christmas Bird Count

Juneau birders spotted about 70 species during the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday.

The number is slightly above average, according to organizers.

More than 40 people took part in the count.

It’s just after dawn, and I’m trudging along the snow covered trail at the end of North Douglas Highway with Grey Pendleton, Marsha Squires, and her 12-year-old son, Owen. We met about 30 minutes ago in the dining area at Foodland grocery store. That’s where local Audubon Society members from the downtown Juneau and Douglas areas usually organize into groups for the Christmas Bird Count.

We’re walking along, when suddenly a sound from a nearby bush causes us all to stop. Pendleton tries to lure the bird or birds into the open, but to no avail.

“These sounded like kinglets maybe in here,” he says.

Then pointing to another stand of trees: “That sounded more like crossbills, finchy.”

We keep walking until we reach the rocky beach near the North Douglas power substation, where the count really gets underway. Several birds are visible in the water. The birders use binoculars and a spotting scope to more easily identify them.

“There’s about 27 white-wing scoters, and four more surf scoters,” Pendleton says.

“Far out,” he adds, writing the numbers in a small notebook.

Pendleton has been doing the Christmas Bird Count in Juneau on and off for about 15 years.

The count has to take place on a single day during a one month period from early December to early January. The Juneau count was originally supposed to be December 14th, but it was delayed due to poor weather. There’s also a separate category for birds seen count week, but not on the count day.

“There’s a 15 mile diameter count circle, so all the counts have to be done in that circle,” Pendleton explains. “Different people go to different areas, or are assigned different areas, and then we combine all our counts. And you count everything you see or hear that you can identify.”

He says he likes birding, because it gets him outdoors. Although maybe not as good as some places, he says Juneau is a pretty good spot for a birder.

“There’s a good variety,” he says. “Lots of different habitats, so you get a good variety, but not as many species as some places in the Lower 48.”

Squires says birding is fun family activity.

“Owen’s been birding since he was about five, and he’s actually gotten to be a better birder than I am,” she says.

“I’m losing my eyesight and my hearing,” she adds with a laugh.

Owen says he likes spotting birds he’s never seen before.

“I have a bird list at home, and one of my favorites is finding all these new birds,” he says. “So I can mark them down in my bird book to say that I’ve seen them before.”

Owen says probably the coolest bird he’s ever seen in Juneau was a peregrine falcon.

“We saw that in my backyard a couple years back,” he says. “We had to look through the scope to find it.”

His mom says that’s another great thing about birding: You’re constantly surprised by the birds you see, and when and where you see them.

“Like, we just saw a ptarmigan down on the beach, and that’s kind of unusual to see, usually you see ptarmigan up high,” she says.

After about an hour on the beach we head back to the trail head and onto the next stop on the day long count.

Unofficially, Juneau birders spotted nearly 11,000 individual birds throughout the day. That’s down slightly from last year, but the 70 species seen is four more than the previous Christmas Bird Count.

Unique or rare birds seen include a western grebe in Auke Bay, two Anna’s hummingbirds, a Lincoln’s sparrow, two white-throated sparrows, and nine red-winged blackbirds.

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