Long-time Langley photographer John Gordon, now an avid birder, caught this image of a varied thrush. (John Gordon/Special to the Langley Advance)

Langley’s annual bird count may be hazardous at times, but always fun

Langley and White Rock field naturalists share a quest to spot as many birds as possible in one day.

by Bailey Martens/Special to the Langley Advance

Crawling over and under barbed wire fences and snagging “one’s trousers,” getting “clasped” by bushes, nearly falling into ponds, jumping ditches, and rummaging around under great fir trees to find a resident owl – these are just a few fond memories Anne Gosse holds of past bird counts.

And once again, the 75-year-old Walnut Grove resident is literally counting down the days until the end of the year – and specifically until the 118th annual Christmas Bird Count.

This year’s count is taking place locally on Saturday, Dec. 30, and Gosse emphasizes that more people are always invited to join in the fun and hazards.

This annual event is organized jointly by the White Rock and Langley field naturalist clubs, which aim to gain a greater understanding of the health and habitats of birds in their communities.

“It’s competitive, fun, with good bird lover companionship,” said Gosse, who’s been part of the local count for the past 15 years.

Prior to birding, Gosse was an avid hiker – until health problems hindered her ability. She then quickly fell in love with birding.

“ I enjoy the chase most of all, because you never know what you will find. Maybe something wonderful or rare or seldom seen,” Gosse said.

In 2014, for instance, she discovered a barn, barred, and two great horn owls in the same day.

It is unlikely to see one owl, let alone three different breeds, Gosse said.

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Joining in the fun

During last year’s count, Langley Field Naturalists spotted 278 unique species of bird.

Nationally, there were three million birds sightings reported by more than 14,000 participants in 447 counts across the country.

Once again, birds all across Canada will be surveyed at the end of the month.

There are different ways to participate in this year’s count, explained Langley Field Naturalists member John Gordon.

There’s the more traditional option of heading outdoors and scouring for the sight of a new bird, he suggested – always keen to be part of that effort.

The group meets Saturday, Dec. 30, between 7 and 7:30 a.m. at the Ricky’s on the southeast corner of Glover Road and the Langley Bypass.

“It looks like it is going to be some chilly, but not even close to the starting temps we had last year,” said organizer Mike Klotz. “Still, dress warm as we will be out until at least 3 p.m.”

Alternately, people can also watch at home, monitoring their bird feeder.

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How it began

Organizers of this year’s event recognize that the focus of the count has not always been on education.

Originally, the international event was a hunting competition by the name of the Christmas Side Hunt.

Participants would pick teams before heading into the forest to begin their hunt. At the end of the day, the team with the largest quantity of deceased wildlife would be victorious.

In 1900, when looking to host the event a second time, participants as well as those in the scientific community, noticed a decline in the number and variety of birds found.

Frank M. Chapman, a zoologist specializing in birds, suggested participants switch from hunting birds to simply watching them.

More than a century later the bird watching hobby is still alive and well, including in the Langley area, said Gosse, so too is the count.

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How to sign up

For more information regarding the Dec. 30 bird count, or to find out how to register, people can contact organizer Mike Klotz at 604-861-1677.

READ: Passion to preserve birds and habitat drives Langley birder

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