Annual Bird Count on its 19th year in Talkeetna area

by Melis Coady

On December 29th nineteen people from Talkeetna and Trapper Creek turned their eyes to the skies and their bird feeders for the Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count. This was the 19th consecutive year that Rick and Cathy Ernst have hosted the event. The high temperature that day was 34-degrees as local residents tramped through the woods in a light drizzle counting 15 different species. Cold and warm temperatures respectively effect the annual bird count in different ways. Twenty years ago it had it’s biggest impact on humans. When Cathy and Rick went out for their first unofficial bird count in 1992 it was 40-below zero and they were outside for only about a half hour. The birds of course are always outside but tend to slow down, puff up their coat of feathers, and sometimes huddle for warmth making them harder to see and count. Last year it was 15-below zero for the New Year’s Day count. Some residents noted that they counted less birds at their feeders during this year’s count. The warmer temperatures possibly encouraged birds to do more foraging for dead bugs in trees.

Rick Ernst first became exposed to birding during his commitment to the Peace Corps in Columbia, South America from 1965-1967. Columbia is home to almost 2,000 bird species, and maintains the biggest bird list on the planet. Rick and Cathy have since traveled back as more experienced birders and they enjoy observing a wide variety of species. In a bird count they joined in Ecuador a few years ago the group recorded 492 species.

All regional bird counts, called “circles” take a standard format. A 15-mile radius circle represents the boundary of 706 square miles of terrain from which volunteers can patrol and record bird species and numbers. The center of the circle in the Talkeetna and Trapper Creek areas is actually in the middle of the Susitna River, two and a half miles south of Talkeetna. The circle is bordered on the east by Benka Lake, on the west by Scotty Lake, on the south by the Su River Bridge, and on the north by a mile-post on the Parks Highway.

This year Red Poles were the most numerous bird with 240 being counted. A resident Bald Eagle was noted and Bohemian Wax-Wings also made the list. There were no real surprises in this year’s bird count, however, in the past some unusual citings have been observed by the group. A few years ago Deb Brock and Jeff Robinson spotted a King Fisher that was presumably wintering over near open water. It is more typical for that species to migrate. Rick and Cathy’s most memorable citing was the year they spent a half hour looking for a woodpecker they heard only to discover it was a rhythmically squeaking spruce tree.

Full results for this bird count and others are compiled and recorded on the Audubon Society’s website.

113th Audubon Christmas Bird Count: Trapper Creek-Talkeetna Circle December 29, 2012    


Common Redpoll    737
Black-capped Chickadee    188
Boreal Chickadee    19
Black-billed Magpie    29
Pine Grosbeak    44
Gray Jay    11
American Dipper    7
Raven    21
Hairy Woodpecker    6
Downy Woodpecker    8
Mallard    6

Red-breasted Nuthatch    2
Spruce Grouse    5

Bohemian Waxwing    1

Bald Eagle    1
# of observers    21

Total Species count day    15
Total Count- all species    1068

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