Around this time of year, people across North America look to the sky, their feeders, and the general outdoors to count birds. It’s known as the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, and birders in Bethel have been participating since 1980.
Bethel held its annual count Saturday and surpassed its goal of 10 bird species, counting 12 to 14. Kristine Sowl, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, organized the event. She says the numbers will be finalized later this week, but confirmed highlights include a great horned owl and a bald eagle. Sowl potted the eagle at the landfill.
“I knew there had been a bald eagle hanging around Bethel in the dump area," Sowl said, "because a couple people have reported it. So I was hoping we’d get it for count, and actually I just got it by chance because I was trying to count ravens and it went flying by.”
Wet falling snow created low visibility at sunrise on Saturday, but blue skies appeared by the middle of the day for the dozen or so people participating in the count. Some walked miles around town holding binoculars; some watched feeders from their home windows; and others cruised Bethel's roads looking for movement in the trees.
The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 in New York and has spread across the continent. It includes the Caribbean and Pacific islands, and the annual event now consists of more than 2,500 counts. The National Audubon Society runs the program to encourage bird conservation and to collect data showing how bird ranges have changed over time.