It shouldn't be a surprise, given where I live, that it gets cold up here. The last few days have hovered around -30C, which is pretty normal for this time of year. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that vehicles really don't like the cold. A couple of days ago our truck gave up the ghost and refused to start, plugged in or boosted. It is probably the starter.
So knowing that I had a Christmas Bird Count to do today I planned on travelling by snowmobile. And although we have two, one of them was being used by Leah's brother. So this morning I went out to warm up the four stroke, but it wouldn't go. The battery was dead. This would be a Green CBC, done on foot.
At 11:00 am Travis and I set out. He wanted to visit with his cousin on the far side of town, so he'd walk with me for the first section of the search. For those of you who do not know what the Christmas Bird Count is it is an annual count of birds that has been going on for over 100 years. It takes place every year between December 15th and January 5th and is one of the biggest citizen science projects there is. Data compiled during the hundreds counts each year is instrumental in showing trends in bird populations.
Our route took us across the sea ice, my plan to count the Ravens at the dog teams, which are always good producers this time of year. There was a lot of activity at the teams, but not the type I anticipated. Pretty much every team had someone there, readying them for a race, and putting dogs in their traces. A lot of people meant no Ravens and by the time we left the sea ice we had only seen seven Ravens, silhouetted against the dark sky.
Yes it is dark, well twilighty now. We are only a week and a half from the Winter Solstice. The Sun's arrival is over four weeks away. I left Travis and headed to the dump. By the time I reached the dump road I'd seen Fifty Ravens, and by the time I'd left there another seventy some more. The half moon was rising above the hills as I contemplated climbing up to the most scenic sewage lagoon in the world and try and find some ptarmigan.
At the end of it, I decided to head back to town and try for another species, for yesterday evening a friend let me know that he'd been hearing redpolls near his house. Heading there would maximize my light for the search for a bird I knew would be around.
Turning back to town I discovered that the slight wind had been at my back on the walk out. It wasn't much of a breeze but I could feel its bite as I headed back in. As I reached town I turned up to the highest street, next to the tundra below the hills that surround town. Almost immediately I saw what would lead to my first surprise of the day. For there were two young boys walking around the tundra above town, and they seemed to be stalking something. As I got close I could see that they were indeed chasing something, four Rock Ptarmigan, which were easily evading them. I did not expect to see them in town, and had given up getting to a place where they might be.
I continued on to my friend's house, where I hoped to hear the redpolls. As I stood there I noticed a Raven jumping back and forth that seemed to be after something. And then a flash of white, and the binoculars revealed another Rock Ptarmigan, probably from the same flock and separated. As I walked to where it was I came across the boy's footprints, so that is no doubt what happened.
But there were no redpolls, and I'd walked a long way in the cold and the thought of some hot stew and coffee drove me home. And to my next surprise for a species I had given up on.
As I neared my house I heard a twittering and looked up to see a flock of Hoary Redpolls flying overhead, almost right above my house! I quickly counted eleven, although there were more and they disappeared into the growing gloom. Then I put the charger on the snowmobile, played with the dogs, and headed inside.