A New Years tradition starts at dawn each year – sometimes earlier if the weather’s right.
Ken McKenna and about 30 other bird enthusiasts will take their binoculars and set off in search of birds of every feather. Their terrain for the day stretches north from the George Street bridge in New Glasgow to Caribou and includes Pictou Landing, Trenton, the Westside of New Glasgow and most of the harbours.
Until night they will count every bird in sight. That means hundreds of ducks, crows and other common birds. Occasionally a rare bird is sighted such as a snowy owl. Last year a turkey vulture was spotted.
The Pictou Harbour Bird Count is associated with the annual Audubon count that happens across the western hemisphere over the holiday season. McKenna said counts actually start in December and carry on into January. This will be his fifth count this year.
As an organizer of the annual hunt for more than 20 years, McKenna said it has been interesting to see how the population of some birds has changed.
The house swallow, for instance, was imported to North America with the early settlers and became plentiful throughout the province, but in recent years they have become rarer.
“They flourished for a long time, but now it’s hard to find them,” McKenna said. “I think they sort of depended on seeds from farms. Of course there’s not that many of those around anymore.”
Finches are a type of bird that seems to go in cycles. One type, the evening grosbeak, was fairly common 20 years, but had diminished a bit.
“All of a sudden this year there’s been great numbers of them,” said McKenna
He said a large number were spotted at a bird count in Springville earlier this year. The warm weather so far this year could actually keep numbers low at the count because there is little ice in the harbours, meaning the birds will be spread out more and harder to count.
He hopes that the weather will cooperate to make for a successful day Tuesday.
“I’ve had to cancel it a couple times over the years, but that’s been really bad,” he said.
Totals of the birds are tallied as well as the number of species. He said there is typically between 60 and 70 species spotted.
Bird feeder watchers are invited to send the number of birds they see throughout the day, if they live within the region specified. Anyone interested in signing up can contact him at 752-7644 to sign up.