Christmas Bird Count this Saturday

Dec 17, 2014

Grab binos, pen and paper, and join tens of thousands in the world's longest running citizen science survey this weekend.

Although this pine grosbeak is easily identified in this poor photo, a camera better than an iPhone is recommended (or your photo evidence is unlikely to convince your more expert friends that you really did spot a rare eyebrowed thrush at the feeder this month).

The Christmas Bird Count for the areas around Dillingham and King Salmon is scheduled for this Saturday, December 20. The annual event draws participation from experts and novices alike, whose tallies combine with counts from all across the Americas in the longest running citizen science survey in the world.

Michael Swaim at the Togiak Refuge Office is the point of contact for the CBC in Dillingham. For those who haven’t participated before, Swaim says it’s an easy and fun event that doesn’t have to take all day:

"You should spend at least a half hour of dedicated counting time, whether that be a feeder watch, or out walking, skiing, or snowmachining," says Swaim.

According to Swaim, many birders, even long time experts, do a lot of their Christmas Bird Count from the comfort of their own home, watching a bird feeder:

"In our count circle history, most of the birds, I'd say two-thirds or so, are actually counted at feeders."

Swaim suggests that counting birds for CBC can be done incidental to other activities, too, like hunting:

"You know as you're glassing for moose and you're sitting there really in tune with the environment, and a group of chickadees come by or what not, it's really easy to record that. It doesn't have to be a big deal to participate."

Dillingham and King Salmon turn in neither big numbers of participants nor big numbers of birds, but Swaim says in the bigger picture of things, every little bit helps compile a useful, scientific database accessible to researchers and the public alike:

"There are literally tens of thousands of observers recording millions and millions of birds. It could seem that what we see here is pretty insignificant, but it's really not. It's a component of the whole, and the information we get here is important to help track trends and the distribution of winter birds. Where they occur and where they don't occur. It all adds up, and it's all important."

Swaim named just a few of the uncommon birds that are exciting to see during the Christmas Bird Count, including American dippers, white crowned and white throated sparrows, hawk owls, goshawk, townsends solitaire, and brambling.

Contact Michael Swaim at the Togiak Refuge (907.842.1063)  or Susan Savage at Alaska Becharof in King Salmon (907.246-4250) for the details on participating.

Below is an email from Michael Swaim to participants:

Greetings Bird Enthusiast,

Please join Togiak National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, 20 December, 2014, for Dillingham’s 21st annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  Ever since 1993, when the first Christmas Bird Count was held in Dillingham, a few dozen hardy individuals have participated annually, recording anywhere from 150 to 2,500 birds.  Last year 17 people counted 417 birds (13 species) during 19 hours of effort.

The most common species recorded over the years have been boreal and black-capped chickadees, pine grosbeak, common merganser, common raven, black-billed magpie, and redpoll species.  Highlights have included sightings of McKay’s bunting, brambling, northern hawk owl, long-tailed duck, northern goshawk, gyrfalcon, Townsend’s solitare, and last year’s white-throated sparrow. Of course, there's always the chance we might find another unusual bird to add to the list.

Results from last year’s count have been compiled and posted it online by the National Audubon Society at:

Participation in this event is easy: just record the number of birds that you see, while keeping track of the hours and miles traveled by foot, ski, snowmachine, or stay at home and record the activity at your bird feeder.  All counts should be completed within the official count area, which extends out from the town of Dillingham to Warehouse Mountain and the Snake Lake road areas (see attached map).  Counts should last a minimum of 30 minutes and only the highest number of birds seen and/or heard at each location should be recorded. 

Please contact me if you are new to the count or plan to survey a different area than normal (842-8414; After the count in complete, please email me with your results, including your start and stop times, location(s) visited, and the total number of birds recorded per species.  I will compile and submit our data to the National Audubon Society, who will post the results online at:

Please join me this holiday season as we work together to conserve North America's birds!   

Happy birding,

Michael Swaim, Wildlife Biologist Togiak National Wildlife Refuge