MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Birds to get no privacy in Christmas count

HOOTERS WILL BE out in full force this week.

From Hudson Point to Hooker Road, birders will take to the trails to tally our feathered friends in the Sequim/Dungeness and Quimper Peninsula areas.

It’s the return of the Christmas Count — an annual event that provides an important snapshot of North America’s bird populations each winter.

“It’s just another way that we have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the natural world,” said Dungeness River Audubon Center Director Bob Boekelheide, the leader of Dungeness count.

“We want to see what changes occur in birds throughout the years.”

That’s with good reason.

Few things provide a better bellwether for the state of nature than the migration and population trends of birds.

Thanks to the numbers compiled by Christmas counts through the years — some go back to the 1800s — ornithologists can now point to data illustrating birds wintering 200 miles farther north than they did two centuries ago.

More locally, birders can see how the elimination of the harmful insecticide DDT has boosted raptor populations on the North Olympic Peninsula since the 1970s.

Simply put, it’s concrete data that has valuable applications to the world of science.

“It has shown really well how some of the species have changed their distributions throughout the years,” Boekelheide said.

The Sequim/Dungeness count is set for all day Monday, while the Quimper count will be held Saturday.

There will also be one for the Port Angeles area on Saturday, Dec. 31.

The Sequim count covers a 15-mile circle that includes the Miller Peninsula and much of Dungeness and its wetlands.

Boekelheide estimates his birders cover less than 10 percent of that, “but we get the birdy spots.”

The count routinely averages in the top 25 nationally in terms of numbers of participants.

Last year, a total of 100 birders went out into the field, while another 41 watched feeders within the circle.

“There are some areas that don’t get covered at all, of course the roads get covered, but way out in the backside of fields and stuff like [does not],” he said.

“Where the birds are really concentrated is where we focus our energy. We just cover what we can.

“It’s always fun running around trying to find all the birds we can.”

Due to the Dungeness area’s wide variety of habitat, birders usually run into a large number of species each winter.

One thing they will likely run into this year is an abnormal amount of snowy owls, which appear to be in the midst of an irruption year.

Whatever other trends and migration patterns are out there are sure to pop up as well, thanks to all those peeping eyes.

Participants are asked to donate $5. Money goes toward the National Audubon Society to publish the Christmas Count edition of “American Bird.”

To sign up for the Quimper count, contact Dan Waggoner at [email protected] or Dick Johnson at 360-385-5418.

To volunteer for the Sequim count, phone the River Center at 360-681-4076.

The contact for the Port Angeles count is Barb Blackie at 360-477-8028.

For more information on the counts, visit http://tinyurl.com/7raelxy.

Steelhead stuff

It’s been an odd season thus far for winter steelhead.

After getting dumped on with rain during the traditional opening weekend — Thanksgiving — steelheaders haven’t had to endure too much misery.

In fact, the relatively dry conditions have sparked something a tad abnormal out west: A red-hot opening to the Hoh River winter steelhead fishery.

For once, it’s actually been fishable more than two or three days in a row.

And there’s a whole lot of fish to target in the glacial-fed river as well.

“They get Quinault fish put in there and the size is better than the ones down here in the Bogachiel,” Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said. “They are a pretty decent fish.

“It’s just that lots of times you don’t get to fish for them, and it’s usually not a big run. This year it’s a pretty good run.”

Normally, the crowds flock to the Bogachiel River this time of year.

That’s because it’s typically the epicenter of the hatchery steelhead run in December.

While there’s still fish to be caught there — Gooding said several guides have limited with regularity — the low-and-clear conditions have made it tough on the weekend warrior.

“People that know what they are doing are going to do fine, people that don’t are not going to do fine,” Gooding said. “It’s been pretty dry out here. We don’t have a lot of water.”

Those looking to fish the Sol Duc might want to wait a bit longer.

That river tends to heat up in late December.

As for smaller creeks like the Hoko or Pysht, it’s probably best to wait until we got another shot of rain.

Ridge check in

Jack Frost is taking his sweet time atop Hurricane Ridge.

While the mountain did receive a dusting this week, it wasn’t enough to kick things into gear for organized winter sports.

“One of these days it will snow, then it will probably really snow,” mountain manager Craig Hofer said.

Obviously, there will not be any operational rope tows or lifts atop the Ridge this weekend.

It will take another two or three feet before Hofer and company can begin putting those in place.

Between now and then, there are back country ski options, as well as ranger-led snowshoe walks at 2 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays through April 1.

Group snowshoe walks are also provided at 10:30 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays.

Group reservations can be made by calling Olympic National Park at 360-565-3136.

For more information on organized winter sports at the Ridge, visit hurricaneridge.com.

Also . . .

■ Big-game hunting season is all but over with the end of major elk and deer hunts on the Peninsula.

Hunters can still go after cougar and all sorts of birds, with the latter a decent bet for those willing to endure the late fall bluster.

■ Outside of Long Beach, razor clam diggers fared well during last week’s harvest dates at Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Diggers averaged 11.0 clams per digger or better at the three beaches, with Mocrocks the most productive of them all with a per digger average of 15.0.

All four beaches are scheduled to open to afternoon digging again on Dec. 22-23.

■ Crab season is coming down to its final weeks, with the season set to close at the end of the month.

Those looking to get in on the final bit of crab wading can expect some prime minus tides on the three days leading up to Christmas.

Winter catch record cards are due back to the state by Feb. 1, 2012.

■ The Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby is set for Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 18-20.

The blackmouth derby spans 500 square miles of fishing with five weigh stations and a $10,000 first prize up for grabs.

For more information, visit gardinersalmonderby.org.

Send photos, stories

Want your event listed in the outdoors column?

Have a fishing or hunting report, an anecdote about an outdoors experience or a tip on gear or technique, why not share it with our readers?

Send it to me, Matt Schubert, Sports Department, Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362; phone, 360-417-3526; fax, 360-417-3521; email matt.schubert

@peninsuladailynews.com.

__________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays.

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