Dillingham, Naknek and King Salmon bird watchers participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird count at the end of December. The results are in, and both sides of the bay reported seeing bird species that normally head further south for winter.
Naknek and King Salmon bird watchers documented a record number of different species for the area.
"We had quite a few birds detected this year, 1,775 all told. We had really high species diversity. We had 27 species detected this year, which is three more than the next highest year," said Melissa Cady, the wildlife biologist for Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuges. She organized the bird count in the Bristol Bay Borough.
That increase in species diversity is part of an upward trend. The average species diversity for the past three years was 25 species. Prior to 2014, the average species diversity was 18. Cady says relatively mild winters in recent years likely have contributed to more species sticking around Bristol Bay in the winter.
"When the weather is milder and we have more open water, more waterfowl are likely to hang around. [The] same goes for other species. When the weather is mild, they are not forced further south from harsh weather," Cady said.
On the other side of the bay, Dillingham birdwatchers counted 19 different species.
"This year we saw the common culprits: the bald eagles, the downy woodpeckers, the grey jays, the magpies, ravens, all the chickadees and then the nut hatches," said Kara Hilwig, the pilot biologist at the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Hilwig organized the event in Dillingham.
For the past two years, the white-crowned sparrow has also made an appearance during the Dillingham count.
"This is kind of giving us a little bit of indication that the winter season is a little more mild than it could be," Hilwig said of the white-crowned sparrow sightings.
The Audubon Christmas bird count is an international effort. Volunteers across North and South America count birds between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. It gives biologists and wildlife agencies more data for their research. This year was Dillingham's 24th annual Christmas Bird Count. It was Naknek and King Salmon's 32nd.