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Column: Keeping an eye on the birds

The Humber Natural History Society is holding its annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday. A children’s event is scheduled for Dec. 29.
The Humber Natural History Society is holding its annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday. A children’s event is scheduled for Dec. 29. - 123RF Stock Photo

When you think of a seagull what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Chances are whatever you’re thinking right now, the person next you has a different idea of the sea bird.

For some, it’s bound to be the winged animal that follows boats in to port, hangs around wharfs waiting for the discarded pieces of the day’s catch and happily squawking as it does.

Others will undoubtedly think of the gull from the McDonald’s parking lot that lands on the hood of your vehicle and stares at you while you wolf down a Big Mac.

Being from this rock we call home, we’ve undoubtedly seen both of these kinds.

But, what if I told you they aren’t the same gulls.

In fact, there are numerous species of gulls in the area. One species is a larger with black wings, another is a bit smaller with greyish wings. There is a pure white version that only appears in these parts during the winter months. That’s the Glaucous Gull.

And, then there’s Icelandic Gull that makes its home here in the winter.

Still, in the summer we will see the ring-billed gull.

“That’s the McDonald’s gull and the one that hangs around up on the parking lots,” said Lois Bateman of the Humber Natural History Society.

Information like this is what Bateman and the society hopes to discover when they hold its annual Christmas Bird Count on Saturday. At the same time, the St. Paul’s-Cow Head Bird Count is taking place. If the weather doesn’t co-operate, it’ll be Sunday.

On Sunday, the Christmas Bird Count for Kids is scheduled to go ahead in Rocky Harbour. A couple of days after that, the Bonne Bay Christmas Bird Count is set for Dec. 20.

Participants usually go out in groups, however there have been instances where individuals have gone out by themselves.

“They walk the streets,” Bateman said of counters. “If there is snow down, they might ski or snowshoe along some of the logging roads or woods roads and take note of whatever birds they see and how many of each they see.

She expects to see between 30-35 people to take part in the event. That yields 35-40 varieties of birds in the thousands.

People with feeders in their backyards can keep track as well.

I’ve never been much into watching birds. The closest I’ve come is gazing out the back window of my parents’ place in Paradise and watching the bird feeder.

However, there was a time when I came across an animal that I’m still not sure I saw.

I was driving back to Green’s Harbour from Spaniard’s Bay probably 10 years ago when I came across something I didn’t expect. Coming around a turn on New Harbour Road, I was met by something that looked like a stork, but remembering what I saw, it could’ve been a blue heron.

It was probably blown off course and found itself in a similar situation the black vulture in Burgeo a couple of weeks ago.

The heron might not be a bird the counters come across Saturday — according to Bateman, Corner Brook’s rare birds appear more in the summer months — but the group is encouraging all to come out.

“It is a great excuse to get outdoors,” said Bateman.

• The Humber count, based in Corner Brook, has been going on since 1981. That makes this year the 36th edition of the count.

• Historically, counts are a part of wildlife surveys being conducted around the globe Dec. 14-Jan. 5. These surveys have been completed for the last 118 years.

• The Corner Brook survey centres around the Ballam Bridge that connects the coastline that makes up the Bay of Islands.

• From there, groups branch out 12 kilometres in all directions and make note of the number of birds they see and hear along the way.

• The count takes in Steady Brook, Marble Mountain, Little Rapids, Massey Drive, Mount Moriah and the other side of Hughes’ Brook.

— Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at

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