Chill in Yukon, need for volunteers in B.C., complicate annual bird counts

VANCOUVER — Bird enthusiasts in Yukon are battling the cold to conduct an annual Christmas bird count, while organizers of a yearly eagle tally in British Columbia are searching for new people to help in their survey.

The Yukon count has been underway for a week and Yukon Bird Club spokesman Cameron Eckert says few sightings were expected because temperatures have been far below normal, dipping to nearly -40 C at night.

But the birds don’t seem ruffled by the chilly conditions because Eckert says 25 species have already been spotted around Whitehorse, and south of there in the community of Tagish, 17 species have been noted, including a few rare sightings of brown creepers.

The count is a holiday tradition that Eckert says goes back 40 years.

In Squamish, B.C., counters are also preparing to conduct the 32nd annual winter eagle count, but the need for volunteers is complicating those plans.

The Squamish Environment Society says as many as 60 volunteers are needed for the Jan. 7 count, which relied on 54 people last year when 475 adult bald eagles and 209 juveniles were counted.

“Some routes in the Upper Squamish were accessed by cross country skiing and snowshoe in 2017,” says the society’s online post seeking volunteers.

“Some were surveyed by kayak or by raft. Most routes involve walking on trails that may be snow-covered, icy or muddy and are by no means maintained,” the society says, adding that counters explore all the “nooks and crannies where eagles may be found.”

The society says the busiest year for counters was in 1994 when nearly 3,800 adult and juvenile eagles were spotted, but there have been fewer in recent years.

The Explore Squamish website says the area is home to one of the largest gatherings of wintering bald eagles in North America because the birds are attracted by the remains of chum salmon that spawn and die in surrounding rivers.

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