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Keeping track of fowl in Cold Lake

At least 36 different species of birds called the Cold Lake area home in 2017, according to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
This photo is of a black back woodpecker at the Cold Lake Provincial Park.
This photo is of a black back woodpecker at the Cold Lake Provincial Park.

At least 36 different species of birds called the Cold Lake area home in 2017, according to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

During this year's count, 10 volunteers split into six parties went through a 15-mile radius, centering at the Cold Lake Regional Airport, with a fine-toothed comb.

“This was our 17th annual count in Cold Lake. This year, we had six parties scout the area as much as they could. They put in 30 hours of search time and over 300 miles in driving,” detailed count coordinator Ted Hindmarch.

A total of 36 species were discovered between Dec. 14 and 19, which included both land and waterfowl due to favourable weather conditions. This has lead to an overall increase in documented species.

The common goldeneye cropped up more than any other species, with the bohemian waxwing following close behind.

“Only six of our previous 16 counts have had higher numbers, this was a pretty good year. We were fortunate that the lake was still open. The count has to take place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, the lake is often frozen before then,” said Hindmarch.

Organizers were refreshed to see the large number of species in the area, after numbers dipped as low as 17 in 2013. Their largest count was in 2004, when 39 species were identified.

“We had a total of 32 species on our big count day this year, with four other species reported during count week. Our highest number of birds has been 39, so we know 36 of those species have stuck around,” detailed Hindmarch.

He added, the fluctuation could likely be attributed to varying volunteer participation over the years.

“We've had counts with up to 30 people back in 2004 to 2006, now we're down to single digits at times. We've went from 70 hours of birding time to 30. We've more than cut that in half. This year, we had 10, which is our average participation lately,” he said.

The group would like to see a few new faces participate in next year's count. Because organizers place novice birdwatchers with seasoned veterans, previous experience isn't a necessity.

“We‘re always looking for more people. The only requirement is to be interested in birds and to have a willingness to learn about them,” said Hindmarch.

The Audubon Bird Count has been put on across North America annually since 1899. So far, 30 counts have taken place from coast to coast, with over 1.1-million birds accounted for this year. Final numbers will be available online after the Jan. 5 deadline.

“This allows people to know which birds are in the area so they can get out and enjoy them. It also goes into an international database and provides a good feeling of where all the species are in that window of time,” Hindmarch expressed. “I'd like to extend thanks to all of the volunteers that contributed to making this happen.”