Submitted by Gareth Thomson 

 In our area, common signs of Christmas include coloured lights, excited tots, decorated trees – and muffled figures known as ‘birders’ peering earnestly into the forest through their binoculars.

 The weekend before Christmas saw over two dozen birders brave the cold and stomp around areas both urban and wild, identifying and counting 43 different bird species in an 24 km diameter area centred on Wilmer that includes Invermere, Windermere, and Radium.  Birders have done Christmas Bird Counts for 123 years in North America, making this the longest-running citizen science survey in the world.  Results from the local area are sent to the National Audubon Society, where they form part of a worldwide database to help support bird conservation.

 The event was organized by Gareth Thomson, a part-time resident of Wilmer.  “We were thrilled to work with 26 dedicated birders – more than twice last years’ number – who combed fourteen different zones within our area.  We also got some great results from half a dozen feeder watchers.  One of the birders was kind enough to offer up their home for a potluck dinner, so we could all sample one anothers’ cooking – and get to know our fellow birders a little better!”

 Several noteworthy results came from the bird count. Brian and Joan Wesley and Ross Macdonald are key players in the Wings over the Rockies festival that takes place in May each year, and were thrilled to view four Varied Thrushes, a species that normally winters along the Pacific Coast.  Meghan Anderson, Larry Halvarson, and Ed Whittingham scouted the open water below the bridge across the Columbia River and counted 23 species, including 22 American Coots and 10 Pied-Billed Grebes – birds that are common here in the summer, but highly unusual in the winter.  And one dedicated feeder watcher reported no less than seventeen goldfinches, a bird smaller than a sparrow that relies heavily on bird feeders to make it through a Columbia Valley winter.