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Fiftieth annual Christmas Bird Count takes flight Dec. 23

The fiftieth annual Kingston Christmas Bird Count is set for December 23. Pictured here is a hairy woodpecker, one of the commonly spotted birds on the Christmas Bird Count.
The fiftieth annual Kingston Christmas Bird Count is set for December 23. Pictured here is a hairy woodpecker, one of the commonly spotted birds on the Christmas Bird Count. - Submitted

KINGSTON, NS – Wayne Neily isn’t one to tweet his own horn, but as Kingston’s Christmas Bird Count turns 50 this year, he’s flying high with excitement at the thought of another year of bird scouting.

The event is a Christmas tradition for many, and draws close to 100 people each year, counting birds at feeders from their homes and from out in the field.

Common and rare birds are spotted every year, and the event has documented 128 species over its 49 years. Not bad, if you ask Neily.

“I think some people just have a natural affinity for enjoying birds and the outdoors, and I’m definitely one of them,” he said.

 

Where the count happens

The Kingston count area spans a 12-km radius circle extending from Aylesford to Lower Middleton, and from Margaretsville to South Tremont.

An autumn sight in the Valley - Canada geese hitting a wetland near Berwick. These are among the most common sightings on the Christmas Bird Count in Kingston.
An autumn sight in the Valley - Canada geese hitting a wetland near Berwick. These are among the most common sightings on the Christmas Bird Count in Kingston.

There are around 30 species commonly seen, including birds like crows, black-capped chickadees, both hairy and downy woodpeckers, blue jays, and even American goldfinches in increasing amounts.

Rare bird sightings can include birds like redpolls, grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatches and cardinals, which have been moving further north than usual in winter months.

More than 30 cardinals were spotted last year alone on the count day.

“These rare bird sightings always capture lots of attention, and get people really excited,” he said.

 

Bird counts collect useful data

Neily founded the Kingston event in 1967 after encouragement from high school teachers and university professors to create an event for fellow bird scouters.

Despite having lived away for several years, Neily compiled the results diligently each year, and has amassed a huge collection of useful data.

He remembers a count around five years ago when 72 species were spotted on that day alone.

Map of zones within the Kingston Christmas Bird Count’s area. These help sort data that is collected by birdwatchers.
Map of zones within the Kingston Christmas Bird Count’s area. These help sort data that is collected by birdwatchers.

“That was definitely the most diverse day we’ve ever had. We couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Sightings of birds like purple sandpipers in Margaretsville have also become increasingly important as the birds’ winter migration patterns shift.

And, due to the radius’ ten zones, the data collected is highly organized and is a useful sample for anyone wanting to research and compare bird patterns year to year.

“These counts provide extensive ranges of data, and we’ve developed one of the best data collections in the province with our particular count,” said Neily.

 

Fond memories from 50 years of bird watching

Neily has many favourite moments when recalling his own rare bird sightings over the years.

American goldfinches are also among the now commonly spotted birds on the count.
American goldfinches are also among the now commonly spotted birds on the count.

Among his top favourites are the 1985 sighting of a red-headed woodpecker, the 2002 sighting of a peregrine falcon, and the more recent 2014 sighting of a western tanager – all rare birds that have only each been documented the one time on Kingston’s count.

In recent years, sightings of ducks have been particularly perplexing.  A hooded merganser was seen last year, along with a green-winged teal, which is typically found in open fresh water areas further south, and sometimes in estuaries.

The first-ever count was founded in 1900 by American Frank Chaplin as an alternative to the Christmas tradition of shooting birds.

The first Nova Scotia counts came in Yarmouth in 1913 and Wolfville in 1915.

And now, the fiftieth annual Kingston count is will soon take flight, with Neily compiling data for future research.

“This count are important for collecting data but are also now a tradition for many, myself included,” he said.

Anyone wishing to participate can contact Wayne Neily at 902-765-2455 or neilyornis@hotmail.com and is asked to do so in advance. Participants can be anyone monitoring their bird feeders for all or part of the day, or more serious birders out in field parties.

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