I think it was the winter of 2005 when I first went out with Andrew for the Wahkiakum County Christmas Bird Count, and I’ve done it nearly every year ever since. I usually paddle the section of the count circle that is lower on the river, in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. It’s usually a very cold, and sometimes stormy kayak trip. This year was no exception.


Christmas bird count by kayak

I set off from Skamokawa around 10:30 in the morning, and paddled out into a strong ebb tide, with a lot of extra runoff pouring out of the mouth of the creek. It was almost instantly windy and rainy, and I saw almost no birds for the first couple of miles crossing the river.

When I got to Woody Island I was ready for a break from trying to look at birds from a kayak that was getting tossed around in the wind and waves, and I pulled out for a half hour or so, had some tea and a Clif bar, dried my freezing hands and put on gloves. I usually don’t use pogies, since I’ve mostly used a Greenland stick for years, but lately I’ve been using my bent shaft Werner, and I sure was wishing I had pogies now!


Christmas bird count by kayak

I had planned to paddle down the west side of the refuge islands, but the wind was just too heavy for decent birdwatching, and I finally gave up and moved to the inside of the islands. That didn’t take me out of the wind completely, but it cut it way down, and I could finally set my paddle down without having it blown away.


Christmas bird count by kayak

My last stop was on Karlson Island, where Andrew hoped that I would be able to climb up on top of the old dike and find a treasure trove of birds in the large field inside the dike. Years ago, someone hit the jackpot here, so I gave it a try again. Sadly, this spot was nearly devoid of bird life. I found a dozen mourning doves and a Fox sparrow, and that was it. I did find a sizable congregation of coots, though, inside the little channel next to the dike.


Christmas bird count by kayak


Christmas bird count by kayak

Numbers wise, this wasn’t a great bird count year for me, personally. I only got 28 species, and there were quite a few that I was expecting to see that I did not. And my position as Scaup Sighting Champion, which I’ve held for several years running, was taken away from me. Last year I counted almost 7000 Scaup, this year, only 1020.

But I did see more White Winged Scoters than I have ever seen before, and I think my Coot count was the highest I’ve ever had, too. And I saw the Tundra Swans, and a few Ruddy Ducks, which I don’t get every year.

I pulled up to the Knappa Docks in Oregon at about 3 PM, just as another squall hit, nearly taking away my paddle again. Twenty minutes later it was back to flat calm, as I loaded up the kayak on the car. All in all, a nice winter paddle.


Christmas bird count by kayak

2 Comments

  1. I always enjoy your writing, Mark. I particularly love the image summoned by the “congregation of coots”; I visualize them all in pews with little hymn books, dressed in their somber black with those flashy legs.

  2. Hi Mark, It was fun to read about your paddling Christmas Bird Count. Paddling definitely affords different challenges and rewards to birding. This was our second year participating in the CBC by kayak. We are lucky to have a friend who goes with us on ours. He enjoys cruising in the front of the tandem and tallying as Jeff does the paddling. It would be fun to find out how many areas are birded by kayak or canoe for the CBC.

    Cheers,
    Cate

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