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Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Christmas Bird Count Hike

Every year the Audubon Society has a Christmas Bird Count where local chapters across the country see how many birds and how many species of birds they can find in a limited area in one day.  Kodiak is one such chapter and in some years we find the greatest variety of species of all the counts in the entire State of Alaska.  This is a huge point of pride, and there are people out in boats, driving the neighborhoods, watching their feeders, and hiking in the woods - no matter what the weather - all trying to make sure that we beat Juneau and Ketchikan.  We usually tally somewhere just shy of 80 different species, and Juneau and Ketchikan are our main competitors in terms of species diversity.  If we get less than say 75 different species there is a good chance that we will get beat, but if we get over 80 we are hard to beat!

Every year it is my job to climb up into the mountains and make sure that Kodiak has a ptarmigan recorded for its count.  Ptarmigan only live high up in the alpine and most birders will not see them unless they make a concerted effort to do so.  The other bird teams call us mountain climbers the ptarmigan SWAT teams because that's all we are really supposed to find.

Anyway, today it was really blowing and it was fairly icy.  I even brought along crampons, and at one point I got out my ice axe to help me get up a particularly hairy section.  At the top I peaked over and there was a goat looking at me from about 10 yards away! I took the picture above a few minutes later. The funny thing is that I ended up seeing 3 different herds and 53 goats total - but I only saw 13 birds total and only 1 ptarmigan.  Kind of funny that I saw more goats than birds!  But all that really matters is that I saw a ptarmigan.

Unfortunately, on my way home my pack came open and my climbing skins dropped out.  I did not realize this until I got back to the car - ughhhhh.  And I did some serious bushwhacking.  Now tomorrow I will have to do it all again in reverse to find my climbing skins (they cost over a 100 dollars).  I'm thinking I'll bring along my good camera and use the opportunity to try and get some good goat pictures!  Patrick

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