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Bird count finds record numbers

A 15-mile radius circle from downtown Everett to Silvana provides the boundaries for the 40th annual Christmas Bird Count. The area is divided into 14 distinct territories. Most coverage is on foot or by car, but specialists cover open waters between Camano and the Marysville-Everett by boat, and a few even go out at dark to find the owls.  -
A 15-mile radius circle from downtown Everett to Silvana provides the boundaries for the 40th annual Christmas Bird Count. The area is divided into 14 distinct territories. Most coverage is on foot or by car, but specialists cover open waters between Camano and the Marysville-Everett by boat, and a few even go out at dark to find the owls.
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Birdwatchers undeterred by the December deep freeze were out counting birds around north Snohomish County Dec. 28.

From downtown Everett north to Silvana, birders found more kinds of birds this year than any other year in 40 years of Christmas Bird Counts, according to count compiler Scott Atkinson, of Marysville.

Statewide, north Snohomish County’s 140 species tied for second highest in the state with Sequim-Dungeness. They were second only to 142 in Grays Harbor.

Birders walked, drove, or — in one case — kayaked across their territories, while others monitored their backyard feeders from indoors, trying to count every wild bird within the defined, 15-mile radius circle on that single day. The counts are much the same year to year, but every year brings surprises, Atkinson said.

This year, Wilson’s snipe, a bird of the “shorebird” group, was present in record numbers along with the long-billed dowitcher. The snipe seemed to like the frozen or thawing edges of fresh water ponds and lakes, Atkinson said.

South of Silvana, one group of observers reported a whimbrel, a small curlew, along with 18 snipe. The whimbrel was an extraordinary first report for the Christmas count, although small numbers pass through this area in spring and fall. Other surprises included a slaty-backed gull in Everett, which are best known in the Russian Far East. A rusty blackbird, usually found in the eastern U.S. this time of year, and a Bohemian waxwing, who usually winters in much colder climates north and east, was found in the circle’s eastern section.

Atkinson said he expected many observers to back out of the count due to the uncertain economy and the cold weather. Atkinson himself was laid off recently from a contracts manager job at BE Aerospace-Flight Structures in Marysville and almost bypassed the event himself.

“I thought of backing out, but decided it would be good for me to get out,” Atkinson said.

None-the-less, 42 observers helped count, about average in recent years. The cold air and deep snows did postpone the event once, from Dec. 20.

“The 140-species milestone had been reached by just two state counts previously: Sequim-Dungeness and Grays Harbor. Bellingham and Padilla Bay in Skagit County each counted 139 once before,” Atkinson said.

North county birders have documented a remarkable number and range of birds over the years, including a snowy owl in Everett. Unusual species must be documented by photograph, multiple observer accounts, or rediscovery in the days following the count day by new observers. Held continent-wide, the CBC combines both veterans and beginner birdwatchers. While levels of skill vary, the bird count provides a yearly snapshot of the birdlife which speaks volumes on the impact of land-use changes and regional weather trends. For example, increased development in the area correlates with an increase in the diminutive black-capped chickadee, a species fond of ornamental suburban plantings. But the ruffed grouse, a bird favoring less-populated areas, seems to be decreasing.

“The fun thing about the Christmas Bird Count is the competition among regions,” Atkinson said.

“I like to call it ‘science as sport’.” he said. “It’s good exercise and very effective low-cost entertainment. Once you have the equipment, the only cost is a bit of gas.” While exploring Biringer Farm, he almost stepped on a short-eared owl, he flushed out a beaver and saw a coyote.

“It’s amazing what you can find in your own backyard.”

The results of the count nation wide are posted on the National Audubon Society’s Web site, www.birdsource.org.

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