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Friday, 22 December 2017 09:43

Waterton’s tradition listening for the chirps: 41st Annual Christmas Bird Count went Dec. 15

Written by  Demi Knight
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Birds are chirping this holiday season, as Waterton Lakes National Park hosted their 41st annual Christmas bird count.

With people gathered from near and far within the park to participate in the Dec. 15 event, once again Waterton is hoping to collect information on the number of species living within the area during the winter months.
"From what we know, the Christmas bird count is the longest running citizen science project in north America," said Dianne Pachal, Public Outreach Education Officer for Waterton Lakes National Park.
"It's quite popular since it's been going for over forty years,” said Pachal. “There's a committed core of people from various communities in southern Alberta that come to look at all the colourful species we have here in the parks."
The Christmas bird count, which was founded in the 1900's by the Audubon Society, over the years has worked to conduct bird studies by collecting data not just in Waterton but across all of Alberta, Canada and the rest of North America to collect information that will ultimately help researchers, wildlife agencies, conservation biologists and interested professionals study the long-term health and status of bird populations across the continent.
With Waterton Lakes being home to 37 constant bird species, and over two hundred different species throughout the year, many return in the month of December and many new visitors stop by to be a part of the count and help with the cause.
"We have averaged at about fifteen participants over the last four years. We have new faces and people that have consistently come out for more than 10 years, people keep coming out because they know the information collected is useful,” said Pachal of those that come by to help with these counts each year.
However, it isn’t just for research but also for fun, since along with getting to tour the scenic landscapes that Waterton has to offer, participants of the count also come together to enjoy the thrill of searching for these wonderfully colourful species which in their lowest recorded species count still saw 21 different bird species and at their most saw an incredible forty-five different species of birds.
“It’s very interesting and catches participants curiosity of what you’ll see from year to year,” said Pachal. “We’re in a location where the mountains meet the prairies, so we have grassland environment right through to alpine, which offers a diverse set of habitat and natural environment meaning a large number of species can be found. And a lot of times, they’re striking and colourful too which brings a lot of participants joy.”
This year's count had participants wanting to be involved in the process to register online before coming to the park to collect a map and a winter bird check list and data sheet. From there, individuals were able to decide where they most wanted to go looking for bird species and spend the morning collecting data before an afternoon meeting at the lodge  to share their findings with others. Everyone who participated will then have two weeks following the initial count to record their data and send it in online.  Eventually, once the information is received, the findings are then vetted to ensure as much as accuracy as possible is achieved by these counts.
Pachael added this particular bird count wasn’t the only way people can get involved, but also through the entire week.
“With this event, we are counting the number of species and the number of birds seen in total, but alongside of this we also have the count week which went three days before the event and three days after and people can participate in that as it goes until Monday (Dec. 18) however, with that count we just keep record of species not individual birds.”
With the bird and species count being of a different number each year Pachal also says it will be interesting to see how many will be found this year and how the wildfire that affected one third of the national park late this summer will affect the numbers seen at this years Christmas count. Yet, this bird count isn’t the only one held within Waterton as there’s also one held each year during summer in the main breeding months.
Together, these counts are being conducted each year by Waterton Lakes park officials in collaboration with different conservation organizations and natural history groups to provide the most accurate results possible and opening the information up to interested members of the public online.

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