Boxing Day we travelled to Lillooet to participate in the Christmas Bird Count.
The travel checklist was varied: Bird books, binoculars, Christmas cookies for the social, pain killers in case the dog’s arthritis flared up, camera gear, hiking poles, laptops, a cheese tray (also for the social) and several layers of warm clothing.
Snow swirled around us as we headed up the Duffey causing me to practice my nervous passenger routine somewhat obsessively but once we reached the summit and stopped at the salt sheds for a bathroom break, a bright flash of red from a pine grosbeak’s wing broke me free from my anxiety. I passed the remainder of the trip pondering the miracle of bird survival in winter.
The next day, bundled to the max, we drove to our birding area with our fellow observer and toddled down an icy logging road to begin our count. The count is just that: a record of every bird one sees in an area. Our chances seemed slim-it was minus three and snowing lightly-surely the birds would be hunkered into whatever nook or cranny offered shelter. Regardless, we carried on.
Surprisingly (haha), birding is not a high intensity activity, yet it requires an intensity that can pull you into the present moment much like an adrenaline fuelled pastime. Ears straining for the slightest rustle or peep; eyes darting to the tiniest flutter; nostrils flared for the scent of earth that might be scratched up-all senses come into play.
Eventually, our searching began to pay off: in the toothpick like regrowth of a dark hollow scampered a pacific wren; in the pale morning sky a bald eagle floated; in the icy waters of Cayoosh Creek a dipper bird dived and danced oblivious to all but the tasty treats it presumably found clinging to the rocks.
Our numbers added up and though it wasn’t a high count, it was rewarding to see how these tiny creatures persist in the coldest months.
Later we enjoyed the cheese tray and Christmas cookies with our fellow counters and compiled our stories and results. It took me an hour or so to thaw out and as darkness settled in I imagined the chickadees burrowing into hollows in the trees, sustained with little more than seeds.