In this annual year-end tally, every chirp counts


Christmas comes a little late this year for the avid avian watcher. The annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the San Juan Islands Chapter of the Audubon Society, is set to take flight Jan. 3.

Grab your binoculars and get ready to tally.

“The thing that’s exciting here is we have fresh water birds, sea birds, land birds, raptors,” said Barbara Jensen, president of the local Audubon Society. “We’re looking for every single bird, and those that are hard to find.”

Keep an eye out this year for rarities in particular, like ospreys which won’t fly south unless there’s a freeze, golden eagles, winter duck species and the elusive red-breasted sap sucker.

The Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count runs Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, and delegates some of the counting responsibility to local chapters. The San Juans designated area is a circle 15 miles in diameter. The center is the University of Washington Labs in Friday Harbor, and its girth includes parts of San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw.

fsffsFor the seasoned birder and for the novice, the bird count offers as little or as much involvement as one desires. Identify feathered-friends solo from your own bird feeder in the backyard, the deck of your boat, or tag along with experienced birders to an assigned area.

Wherever you chose to count make sure to contact Jensen so she can set you up with paperwork and make sure there’s no double-dipping as far as areas to cover are concerned.

The bird count was founded in 1900 by ornithologist (bird doctor) Frank Chapman, a pioneer in the early days of the Audubon Society, in response to a Christmas tradition of shooting birds with guns, not cameras. The Christmas Bird Count is now the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, providing critical data on population trends from the tallies of more than 2,300 bird-count circles.

The San Juans’ Christmas Bird Count, which got its start in 1987, has shown variations in population during its 27-year history, some good, others not so good. The number of bluebirds and Anna’s hummingbirds are on the rise, while the population of seabirds and shorebirds have dropped precipitously over the years.

Although its roots are scientific, the bird count is a chance to connect with fellow nature enthusiasts, experience winter’s splendor, and introduce newcomers to the magical world of birding.

“As birders we love whatever is seasonal,” Jensen said. “The very first thrush of the fall, stumbling upon a pacific wren in winter.”

Scientific with a dose of whimsy—and not to mention some competition. Every chirp counts, and the rarer the better. Jensen said she hopes the San Juan chapter will blow Victoria, Canada, out of the water this year with a tally that boasts a number of rare sightings and big collection of birds overall.

For more information visit, and to get down for the count call Barbara Jensen at 378-3068.