Jan 112018
 

The annual Christmas Bird Count reveals the ups and downs of bird populations – and always some surprises.

Between mid-December and early January, birders in more than 2,500 localities across North, Central and South America take a break from the holiday festivities to spend a day outside, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, the Christmas Bird Count is probably the longest-running Citizen Science project in the world. The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data.

One of the most interesting trends the numbers show is the decades-long northward march of the Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Tufted Titmouse and Northern Cardinal. Mourning Doves, for example, were extremely rare in the northern states and Canada until the 1960s, and it was only in the 1970s that their numbers really increased. All of these species used to be restricted to the southern U.S. Their range extension northward is most likely the result of a combination of milder winters and more people feeding birds.

The counts are organized at the local level, often by a birding club or naturalist organization. The count area is a circle, measuring 24 kilometres in diameter. The circle is then sub-divided into sectors, each of which is covered by a different group of birders. The basic idea is to identify and count – as accurately as possible – every bird seen or heard.

Once again this year, two local counts were held – one centred in Peterborough and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park. The Petroglyphs Count circle can be viewed at bit.ly/2EfuPt8. Martin Parker of the Peterborough Field Naturalists organized the Peterborough count, while Colin Jones was in charge of the Petroglyphs count.

Ruffed Grouse – Jeff Keller

Peterborough Count

The 66th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 17 under cold but sunny conditions. Seventy-one members and friends of the Peterborough Field Naturalists spent all or part of the day in the field, while 10 others kept track of birds visiting their feeders.

By the end of the day, participants had found 13,166 individual birds of 60 species. A pair of Fox Sparrows and a Sandhill Crane were new to the count. Both of these migratory species should have left the Kawarthas well before mid-December. At the compilation dinner after the count, Scott McKinlay described his group found and identified the crane. “I saw this bird through my scope from a considerable distance – maybe a kilometre – as it flew low over an open field in full sunlight. It had broad wings and the slow, arching wing beats typical of large herons and cranes. It was clearly brown in colour. I was reluctant to call it as a Sandhill because of the distance and time of year, but nothing else fit. A short time later, I reunited with the rest of the group, who had been surveying the area in the direction of my sighting. Before I uttered a word, they yelled out, “I think we saw a Sandhill Crane!” They described it as being the size of a Great Blue Heron with an outstretched neck, long trailing legs and flying low over a field in my direction. All three were adamant, however, that it was not a heron.”

Sandhill Crane (Wikimedia)

Record high numbers were tallied on the count for Cooper’s Hawk (12), Bald Eagle (13), Red-bellied Woodpecker (16), Pileated Woodpecker (28), Dark-eyed Junco (731) and Northern Cardinal (144). Previous highs were tied for Merlin (3) and Peregrine Falcon (1). The 466 Blue Jays tallied was three short of the previous high of 469.

There were also some notable low numbers. As has been the pattern in recent years, Great Horned Owls (2 vs. 40 in 1992), Ruffed Grouse (17 vs. 82 in 1979) and House Sparrows (181 vs. 2209 in 1981) were conspicuous by their relative absence. It is well known fact that Ruffed Grouse numbers fluctuate a great deal from year to year and even decade to decade. However, the factors responsible for these periodic fluctuations remain poorly understood. Road mortality and changes in habitat, especially south of the Canadian Shield, probably play a role, as well. These include forest fragmentation and fewer early-successional, aspen-dominated forest blocks. Ruffed Grouse are only capable of relatively short flights.

The decline of Great Horned Owls is another mystery. The Canadian population has dropped by over 70% since the 1960s. Collisions with vehicles and high mortality of fledged young due to starvation are acknowledged as playing an important roles. Declines in principal prey species, such as cottontails, hares and rodents (e.g., a big drop in muskrat numbers) may be a contributing factor.

Great Horned Owl – Drew Monkman

The downturn in House Sparrow populations, however, may be the biggest enigma. This is evident across the bird’s range, which includes every continent except Antarctica. The cause or causes are not yet known. In rural areas, it may be that changes in agricultural practices have resulted in fewer nesting sites and less food availability. In northeastern North America, it also been postulated that competition with a relatively new arrival, the House Finch, is a playing a role. However, House Finches have also been declining for a number of years. Only 181 were found this year, which is about one tenth of the record high of 1197.

Finally, not a single American Kestrel was found on the count. It is estimated that the continent-wide population of this small falcon has declined by about 50% since 1966. Part of the reason may be the felling of standing dead trees on which they depend for nesting sites. Removing hedgerows and brush as part of “clean” farming practices are almost certainly having an effect, too. According to Don Sutherland of the Natural Heritage Information Centre in Peterborough, American Kestrels are still common in parts of northern Ontario, particularly in the Big and Little Clay Belts where agriculture is less intense and there is an abundance of hayfields and pasture.

 

American Kestrel – Nima Taghaboni

The total tally sheet for the Peterborough count is as follows:   Canada Goose 400,  American Black Duck 8, Mallard 964,  Bufflehead 2, Common Goldeneye 100, Hooded Merganser 1, Common Merganser 7, Ruffed Grouse 17, Wild Turkey 223, Sharp-shinned Hawk  2, Cooper’s Hawk 12, Bald Eagle 13, Red-tailed Hawk 49, Sandhill Crane 1, Ring-billed Gull 9, Herring Gull 121, Glaucous Gull 1, Iceland Gull 1, Great Black-backed Gull 1, Rock Pigeon 1680, Mourning Dove 1088, Eastern Screech-Owl 2, Great Horned Owl 2, Snowy Owl 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker 16, Downy Woodpecker 90, Hairy Woodpecker 62, Northern Flicker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 28, Merlin 3, Peregrine 1, Northern Shrike 8, Blue Jay 466, American Crow 612, Common Raven 9, Black-capped Chickadee 2065, Red-breasted Nuthatch 27, White-breasted Nuthatch 88, Brown Creeper 7, Golden-crowned Kinglet 28, American Robin 181,  European Starling 2227, Cedar Waxwing 115, Snow Bunting 143, American Tree Sparrow 439, Dark-eyed Junco 731, Fox Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow 1, White-throated Sparrow 5,  Northern Cardinal 144, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Brown-headed Cowbird 1,  House Finch 181, Purple Finch 2, White-winged Crossbill 1, Pine Siskin 99, American Goldfinch 424 and House Sparrow 181.  A Northern Harrier, Ring-necked Pheasant and Carolina Wren were also seen during the count period but not on the day of the count.

Petroglyph Count

            The 32nd Petroglyph Christmas Bird Count took place on December 27, in frigid weather conditions. The 24 participants braved temperatures of close to -30 C in the early morning and only -18 by mid-afternoon. Despite the weather, 32 species and 1826 individual birds were tallied, which is close to the 10-year average of 33.5 species and 2,248 individuals. There was virtually no open water, however, and therefore no waterbirds.

Although no new species were recorded or records broken, there were some notable results. An above-average 7 Bald Eagles, 146 Red-breasted Nuthatches, 122 American Tree Sparrows and 134 Dark-eyed Juncos were counted. A Gray Jay was also located in a bog along the Sandy Lake Road south of Lasswade. Up until 2009, this species was recorded annually but since then only observed in 2014 and during the week of the count in 2016. Two other birds of note were an immature Golden Eagle seen soaring over the Kawartha Nordic Ski Trails near Haultain and a Black-backed Woodpecker in Petroglyphs Provincial Park.

Black-backed Woodpecker – Wikimedia

As for winter finches, 41 Red Crossbills and 8 White-winged Crossbills turned up, some of which were singing! These birds will nest in any month of the year if sufficient food is available. This year, nearly all of our conifers produced a bumper seed crop. Crossbills feed almost exclusively on conifer seeds. Two Purple Finch, 114 Pine Siskin, 103 American Goldfinch and 2 Evening Grosbeak rounded out the finch count.

The total  tally sheet for the Petroglyph count is as follows: Ruffed Grouse 7, Wild Turkey 40,  Bald Eagle 7, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Golden Eagle 1, Rock Pigeon 10, Mourning Dove 9, Barred Owl 1, Downy Woodpecker 25, Hairy Woodpecker 39, Black-backed Woodpecker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 11, Gray Jay 1, Blue Jay 206, American Crow 4, Common Raven 42, Black-capped Chickadee 641, Red-breasted Nuthatch 146, White-breasted Nuthatch 40, Brown Creeper 17, Golden-crowned Kinglet 32, American Robin 2, European Starling 10, Cedar Waxwing 6, American Tree Sparrow 122, Dark-eyed Junco 134, Purple Finch 2, Red Crossbill 41, White-winged Crossbill 8, Pine Siskin 114, American Goldfinch 103, and Evening Grosbeak 2.

 

 

Backyard Count

If you are inspired by the Christmas Bird Count and want to contribute to Citizen Science yourself – and maybe introduce your children or grandchildren to birding – consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place February 16-19 and anyone can participate. Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can do so from any location. Go to gbbc.birdcount.org for details. To see the results of last year’s count, visit gbbc.birdcount.org/2017-gbbc-summary/

 

 

 

Jan 192017
 

Between mid-December and early January, birders in over 2000 localities across North, Central and South America took a break from the holiday festivities to spend a day outside, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, the Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running Citizen Science projects in the world. The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data. The data are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists to assess the population trends and distribution of birds. The counts are organized at the local level, often by a birding club or naturalist organization.

The count area is always a circle, measuring 24 kilometres in diameter. The circle is then sub-divided into sectors, each of which is covered by a group of birders. This involves driving as many of the roads in the sector as possible and walking or skiing into off-road areas of different habitat types. The basic idea is to identify and count – as accurately as possible – every bird seen or heard.

Once again this year, two counts took place locally – one centred in Peterborough and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park. Martin Parker of the Peterborough Field Naturalists organized the Peterborough count, while Colin Jones compiled the Petroglyphs count.

Peterborough Count

The 65th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 18 under cold but sunny conditions. Forty-one members and friends of the Peterborough Field Naturalists spent all or part of the day in the field, while seven others kept track of birds visiting their feeders. One observer was also out before dawn listening for owls.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds – male at upper right – Wikimedia

By the end of the day, participants found 13,860 individual birds, which is a new high. A total of 59 species was recorded. There were two new species for the count, a Horned Grebe and two Eastern Bluebirds. The grebe was found on the Otonabee River at Millennium Park, while the bluebirds turned up near the intersection of the Lang-Hastings Trans Canada Trail and County Road 35. The grebe and bluebirds bring the total number of species found on the count its 65-year history to 130.

The biggest story of this year’s count, however, was the huge number of American Robins. These birds clearly missed the memo that it was time to migrate! The 1,943 robins recorded more than doubled the previous high of 759 tallied in 2011. Observers described seeing flock after flock of robins flying across roads and fields to thickets full of wild grape – a favourite winter food and the main reason why so many robins took a pass on flying any further south. If the birds can get enough to eat, cold is not a problem. It will be interesting to see if there is sufficient food to keep the robins remain here until spring.

Record highs were also tallied for Bald Eagles (5), Eastern Screech Owls (4),   American Crows (953), White-breasted Nuthatches (120), and Dark-eyed Juncos (543). Previous highs were tied for Sharp-shinned Hawks (5) and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (8).

Three rarely seen species also turned up, namely a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Snow Goose and a Brown Thrasher. This was only the second time the latter two species have ever been found on the count. Thrashers are usually in Louisiana at this time of year!

American Robin in mountain-ash March 2014 – Jeff Keller

As is the case every year, there were also some notable low numbers. For instance, observers only found only 71 Canada Geese. This was because cold weather just before the count had reduced the amount of open water. As has been the pattern in recent years, the number of Great Horned Owls (1) and Ruffed Grouse (2) was also very low. To put this into context, 82 grouse were recorded in 1979. It is well known, however, that grouse numbers fluctuate a great deal from year to year and even decade to decade. The factors responsible for these periodic fluctuations remain poorly understood. As for Great Horned Owls, the Canadian population has declined by over 70% since the 1960s.

The overall data for the Peterborough count is as follows: Snow Goose 1, Canada Goose 71,  American Black Duck 5, Mallard 1006, Long-tailed Duck 1, Bufflehead 1, Common Goldeneye 95, Hooded Merganser 2, Common Merganser 1, Ruffed Grouse 2, Wild Turkey 88, Horned Grebe 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk  5, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Northern Goshawk 2, Bald Eagle 5, Red-tailed Hawk 25, Rough-legged Hawk 2, Ring-billed Gull 71, Herring Gull 131, Lesser Black-backed Gull 1, Great Black-backed Gull 1, Rock Pigeon 1006, Mourning Dove 515, Eastern Screech-Owl 4, Great Horned Owl 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker 8, Downy Woodpecker 64, Hairy Woodpecker 40, Northern Flicker 5, Pileated Woodpecker 7, Merlin 2, Peregrine 1, Northern Shrike 3, Blue Jay 261, American Crow 953, Common Raven 29, Black-capped Chickadee 1722, Red-breasted Nuthatch 15, White-breasted Nuthatch 120, Brown Creeper 6, Eastern Bluebird 2, American Robin 1943, Brown Thrasher 1, European Starling 2674, Bohemian Waxwing 4, Cedar Waxwing 220, Snow Bunting 1010, American Tree Sparrow 344, Dark-eyed Junco 543, White-throated Sparrow 2,  Northern Cardinal 104, Brown-headed Cowbird 1,  House Finch 44, Purple Finch 1, American Goldfinch 533, and House Sparrow 147.

Petroglyph Count

The 31st Petroglyph Christmas Bird Count took place on December 27, in less than favourable weather conditions. The day was dull and overcast with strong winds and intermittent periods of light snow and freezing drizzle. The strong winds made listening difficult for the 24 participants. A successful Christmas bird count depends not only on seeing the birds but also on hearing them. Calm days are therefore best. Only 28 species were found, which is six lower than the 10-year average. The number of individual birds (1937) was also below average.

Although no new species were recorded, there were some notable sightings. A record 318 Bohemian Waxwings was more than four times the previous high of 76. A Cooper’s Hawk was recorded for only the fourth time on the count, and a Rough-legged Hawk turned up for only the sixth time. The 11 American Robins counted was only two shy of the previous high.

Bohemian Waxwing (Karl Egressy)

As for low counts, only six Ruffed Grouse were recorded. This is well below the 10-year average of 22 and the count high of 77. Blue Jay numbers were down, too, with only 74 putting in an appearance. The 10-year average is 271, and count high is 653. A poor acorn crop probably explains the Blue Jay’s relative scarcity. Most jays simply chose to migrate south this year in search of more abundant food. Numbers of Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Golden-crowned Kinglets were also much lower than average.

A worrisome miss was the Gray Jay. A pair was visiting a feeder just before the count but was not present on count day. An average of five birds was recorded every year up until 2009. Since then, however, they have only been tallied once on the day of the count. Gray Jays are one of many species that are expected to decrease in number as the climate warms, especially at the southern edge of their range such as here in the Kawarthas.

No Barred Owls were found this year, either. This very vocal species had been recorded every year since 1995 except for 2012 and this year. With the exception of reasonably good numbers of American Goldfinch (326) and Evening Grosbeaks (44), no other finches were found.

The overall data for the Petroglyph count is as follows: Ruffed Grouse 6, Wild Turkey 43,  Bald Eagle 5, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Rough-legged Hawk 1, Rock Pigeon 34, Mourning Dove 5, Downy Woodpecker 23, Hairy Woodpecker 25, Pileated Woodpecker 4, Northern Shrike 1, Blue Jay 74, American Crow 10, Common Raven 65, Black-capped Chickadee 676, Red-breasted Nuthatch 32, White-breasted Nuthatch 92, Brown Creeper 24, Golden-crowned Kinglet 4, American Robin 11, European Starling 45, Bohemian Waxwing 318, American Tree Sparrow 22, Dark-eyed Junco 19,  Snow Bunting 26,  American Goldfinch 326, and Evening Grosbeak 44.  A Gray Jay was also seen during the count period but not on the day of the count.

Ruffed Grouse – Parry Sound – via Rob Moos

Kids Count

In order to help young people develop an interest in birding, the third annual Junior Christmas Bird Count (CBC 4Kids) also took place on the same day as the Peterborough count. Organized by Lara Griffin, the Peterborough Field Naturalist Juniors scoured the grounds and nearby trails of the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre on Pioneer Road. The birds they found were added to the Peterborough count data. The junior event incorporates many of the same features as the adult version. However, it is far less rigorous and designed more like a game.

Great Backyard Bird Count

If you are interested in contributing to Citizen Science and maybe introducing your children or grandchildren to birding, consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This year, it is taking place February 17-20. The GBBC engages bird watchers of all levels of expertise to create a real-time snapshot of the whereabouts and relative abundance of birds in mid-winter. Anyone can participate. Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world! Go to gbbc.birdcount.org for details.

 

 

Jan 082016
 

Between mid-December and early January, birders from across North, Central and South America take a break from holiday season excess to spend a day in the fresh air, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, Christmas bird counts represent the biggest organized birding event in the world and a holiday tradition for over 50,000 birders each year. The counts first began from a desire to count birds rather than shoot them. In doing so, they gave birth to North America’s modern conservation movement.

Birding is attracting more and more young people. Drew Monkman

Birding is attracting more and more young people. Drew Monkman

There are two counts in the Peterborough area. One is centred in the city itself and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park on the north shore of Stony Lake. Both counts cover a circle 24 kilometres in diameter, take one day each to complete and are organized by a count compiler. Martin Parker organizes the Peterborough count, while Colin Jones is in charge of the Petroglyphs count. Working in small groups and covering the circle by car and by foot, birders work from dawn to dusk identifying and counting every bird they see or hear. The count is open to anyone who wishes to participate. If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.

Peterborough Count

The 64th Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 20th under sunny, mild conditions. Forty-five members and friends of the Peterborough Field Naturalists spent all or part of the day in the field, while four others kept track of birds visiting their feeders. The first party was out at 4:30 a.m. listening and calling for owls.

By the end of the day, participants found 16,558 individual birds, which is a new high. A total of 58 species were recorded, four more than the 10-year average. Because mild fall weather continued throughout December and all of the lakes and rivers in the area were open, a large number of waterbirds were still present, including a new species for the Count, the Cackling Goose. It brings the total number of species found on the Count since its beginning to 128. The first Peterborough CBC took place in 1953.

Cackling Goose (foreground) - Brendan Boyd

Cackling Goose (foreground) – Brendan Boyd

As for numbers of birds, record highs were tallied for Canada Goose (3795), Northern Shoveler (4), Redhead (2), Bufflehead (13), Hooded Merganser (15), Ring-billed Gull (399), Eastern Screech-owl  (4), Belted Kingfisher (4), Pileated Woodpecker (17), American Crow (813), Black-capped Chickadee (2044), White-breasted Nuthatch (138), and Purple Finch (60). Some other notable birds included an Iceland Gull, 5 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 3 Merlins, 202 American Robins, a Hermit Thrush, a Red-winged Blackbird, and 128 Pine Siskins. As is the case every year, there were also some notable low numbers. For instance, observers only found one Northern Shrike and three Great Horned Owls. The latter is declining throughout its range.

Pileated Woodpecker (Peter Armstrong)

Pileated Woodpecker (Peter Armstrong)

The overall data for the Peterborough count is as follows: Cackling Goose 2, Canada Goose 3795, American Black Duck 3, Mallard 1141, Northern Shoveler 4, Redhead 2, Great Scaup 1, Bufflehead 13, Common Goldeneye 45, Hooded Merganser 15, Common Merganser 54, Ruffed Grouse 8, Wild Turkey 164, Northern Harrier 4, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1, Cooper’s Hawk 3, Bald Eagle 2, Red-tailed Hawk 45, Ring-billed Gull 399, Herring Gull 440, Iceland Gull 1, Great Black-backed Gull 1, Rock Pigeon 1861, Mourning Dove 337, Eastern Screech-Owl 4, Great Horned Owl 3, Barred Owl 1, Belted Kingfisher 4, Red-bellied Woodpecker 5, Downy Woodpecker 86, Hairy Woodpecker 51, Pileated Woodpecker 17, Merlin 3, Northern Shrike 1, Blue Jay 191, American Crow 813, Common Raven 19, Black-capped Chickadee 2044, Red-breasted Nuthatch 13, White-breasted Nuthatch 138, Brown Creeper 6, Golden-crowned Kinglet 6, Hermit Thrush 1, American Robin 202, European Starling 1995, Cedar Waxwing 270, Snow Bunting 308, American Tree Sparrow 253, Dark-eyed Junco 436, White-throated Sparrow 1, Song Sparrow 1, Northern Cardinal 112, Red-winged Blackbird 1, House Finch 80, Purple Finch 60,  Common Redpoll 2, Pine Siskin 128, American Goldfinch 887, and House Sparrow 112.

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

Petroglyph Count

The 30th Petroglyph Christmas Bird Count took place on December 30th. The 22 participants enjoyed clement weather, ice-free lakes and good listening conditions. Much of birding is done by ear, so calm days are best. A total of 40 species were found, which tied the previous high. The number of individual birds (2666) was slightly above average, too. One new species for the count was recorded, which surprisingly enough was the Mallard. Birders found 26 of these ducks on Stony Lake and one on Jack Lake. Thanks to the open water, a variety of waterfowl that have usually left the area by December also turned up. They included a record number of American Black Ducks (10), Common Goldeneye (28), Hooded Merganser (30), and Common Merganser (500, which shattered the previous record of 97). A record high 30 Pileated Woodpeckers were also found. Some other birds of note were 2 Common Loon, 2 Winter Wren (one of which was actually singing!), 51 Red Crossbill, and 8 Bald Eagle. Some common species that occurred in good numbers were Ruffed Grouse (31), Red-breasted Nuthatch (244), Brown Creeper (32) and Golden-crowned Kinglet (49). Finch diversity, too, was excellent with six species recorded. As for low counts, only 5 Mourning Doves, 1 Barred Owl and 151 Blue Jays were tallied. The latter species usually numbers well over 300, but a below-average acorn crop probably explains their relative scarcity. Many jays have simply chosen to migrate south this year in search of more abundant food.

A worrisome miss for the count was the Gray Jay. Prior to 2010, the average count for Gray Jays was five, and they were recorded every year with the exception of 1990. Gray Jays are one of many species that are expected to decrease in number as the climate warms, especially at the southern edge of their range such as here in the Kawarthas. It is also interesting that only one Barred Owl made an appearance, since good numbers of this species have been seen in the area in recent weeks.

The overall data for the Petroglyph count is as follows: Canada Goose 3, American Black Duck 10, Mallard 27, Bufflehead 1, Common Goldeneye 28, Hooded Merganser 30, Common Merganser 500, Ruffed Grouse 31, Wild Turkey 40, Common Loon 2, Bald Eagle 8, Northern Goshawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Herring Gull 4,   Rock Pigeon 32, Mourning Dove 5, Barred Owl 1, Downy Woodpecker 32, Hairy Woodpecker 37, Pileated Woodpecker 30, Northern Shrike 1, Blue Jay 151, American Crow 11, Common Raven 95, Black-capped Chickadee 660, Red-breasted Nuthatch 244, White-breasted Nuthatch 132, Brown Creeper 32, Winter Wren 2, Golden-crowned Kinglet 49, European Starling 18, American Tree Sparrow 33, Dark-eyed Junco 65,  Snow Bunting 5, Purple Finch 10, Red Crossbill 51, Common Redpoll 18, Pine Siskin 167, American Goldfinch 91, and Evening Grosbeak 1. A Golden Eagle and a Ring-billed Gull were also seen during the count period but not on the day of the count.

Male Hooded Merganser (Karl Egressy)

Male Hooded Merganser (Karl Egressy)

Junior Count

In order to help young people develop an interest in birding, the second annual Junior Christmas Bird Count also took place this year. Organized by the Peterborough Field Naturalists, 16 young naturalists spent part of the morning of January 3 scouring the grounds and nearby trails of the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre on Pioneer Road. The junior event incorporates many of the features as the adult version. However, it is far less rigorous and designed more like a game. The objective is to contribute to citizen science while having fun. This year, the children found 12 species with the help of leaders Dave Milsom, Sean Smith and Martin Parker. The highlight of the morning was 35 American Robins.

Leucistic American Robin (Alan Dextrase - April 12, 2013)

American Robin (Alan Dextrase)

 

Great Backyard Bird Count is coming!

If you are interested in contributing to citizen science and maybe introducing your children or grandchildren to birding, consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). It takes place February 12-15. The GBBC engages bird watchers of all levels of expertise to create a real-time snapshot of the whereabouts and relative abundance of birds in mid-winter. Anyone can participate. Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world! Click here for details.

 

 

 

Dec 182014
 

 

Counting birds during the Christmas period has been a tradition of naturalists and bird watchers across the continent since 1900.  This year almost 2000 Christmas Birds Counts will be held.  Each count now follows a standardized procedure so the results are comparable.  Each individual count covers an area contained within a circle with diameter of 24 kilometers and conducted during one calendar day.  Christmas bird counts are conducted between December 14 and January 5 annually.

Christmas Bird Counts have been coordinated by the National Audubon Society since the original counts were held in 1900.  One of the original counts was held in Toronto, Ontario and has been held annually since.  In Canada the counts are now coordinated by Bird Studies Canada who provide support to count compilers and summarizes the results.

Collectively the counts provide an insight into the status of our wintering birds across the continent and ongoing trends.  The exact numbers of birds observed on individual counts are less important than the trend for the species over a wide area.  In the Peterborough area over the years there have been a number of significant changes in populations of some birds.

The Northern Cardinal, which is a common visitor to feeders throughout Peterborough, was not found on any counts held in the 1950’s and on only one count in the 1960’s.  Now it is a common year-round resident.  An average of 83 individuals have been recorded on the Peterborough count over the past ten years.  This year there were 108 Northern Cardinals.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker and House Finches are two other species whose range has expanded northwards into our region.  Christmas Bird Counts have documented this expansion.  This year the participants found 7 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, which ties the previous high and a total of 74 House
Finches.  The number of House Finches is lower than the numbers recorded when they initially arrived in the Peterborough region.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (female) -  Jennifer MacKenzie Dec 31, 2014

Red-bellied Woodpecker (female) – Jennifer MacKenzie Dec 31, 2014

The introduction of Canada Geese into southern Ontario resulted in a development of a non-migratory population of this species in the region.  These geese do not migrate to southern destinations, rather move between water areas in the Great Lakes basin.  They are now present on the annual Christmas Bird Counts.  A total of 640 were recorded this year.  Wild Turkeys are another species which have been re-introduced to the region in recent years and their numbers are increasing annually.  A record number of 306 were found on count day.

In the late 1950’s and 1960’s both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers were found in small numbers on the annual Christmas Bird Counts.  They have been absent in recent years.  In the late 1950’a and 1960’s the Dutch Elm Disease was killing the elms in the region resulting in the presence of lots of bark beetles under the bark of dyeing elms.  These northern woodpeckers moved south annually to feast on this new food source.

This year the 62nd Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was conducted by forty-five volunteers under the sponsorship of the Peterborough Field Naturalists and coordinated by Tony Bigg, on Sunday December 14.  The count circle was dived into ten smaller areas and a field party consisting of both experienced and beginning counters were assigned to cover each area.  During the day the participants walked the trails and roadways in the area for birds such as Black-capped Chickadee and Blue Jay, scanned the open waters of the Otonabee River and Little Lake for geese, ducks and gull species, checked the open fields for Wild Turkeys and Red-tailed Hawks, and checked known feeders for Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos and other birds.  According to Tony Bigg, count compiler, “the results this year are surprising.  In spite of the cold weather in a few weeks ago there was a record number of species on the Peterborough Count this year.  Also a record number of participants’.

Some of the area groups split into multiple field parties permitting more habitats to be checked.

Some of the participants were out in the field well before dawn in an attempt to hear and locate some of the nocturnal owls, species which are very difficult to find in the day-light hours. Field activities ended at dusk when the participants gathered at a restaurant to celebrate the unusual finds of the day and to compile the results for the day’s effort.

Tony Bigg called out the individual species and each field party in turn reported the number of individuals they observed.  Some species were only observed by one group and other species such as Blue Jays, and Black-capped Chickadees were reported by all the groups.  At the end of the compiling a total of 66 species of birds were reported, a new high for the Peterborough Christmas Bird Count.  A total of 11,773 individual birds were observed according to the preliminary summary circulated by Bigg.  A few feeder watcher results have yet to be received.

The oldest Christmas Bird Count for Peterborough, according to the records of the Peterborough Field Naturalists, was held on Saturday, December 25, 1953. Although the report in the Club’s newsletter indicated there were earlier counts.  At this time information on these counts are not available.  On the 1953 count the participants did not start until 8:45 am. and completed the day’s birding around noon.  There were 20 participants who formed five field parties.  They observed a total of 21 species of birds on that count.  On that count the participant found a Killdeer, a summer bird of the region which is not expected to be present in the winter months.  It has not been recorded on any count since the 1953 count.

There were special and unusual species found by the count participants on this year’s count.  Finding a bird which is unexpected is always a thrill for the person finding it.  The participants identified a total of 67 species of birds, which exceeds the previous high of 62.  A grand total of 11,774 individual birds were recorded.  This was not a record.

Northern Cardinal - by Ruthanne-Sobiera

Northern Cardinal – by Ruthanne-Sobiera

A single Pied-billed Grebe was found on the Otonabee River between Trent and Lakefield.  This summer bird is occasionally found on the Peterborough CBC.  A total of 2 Great Blue Herons were also found.  A total of seven species of geese and ducks were recorded.  They consisted of 540 Canada Geese, 4 American Black Ducks, 903 Mallards, 18 Common Goldeneyes, 1Bufflehead, 6 Hooded Mergansers, and 24 Common Mergansers, the majority on the Otonabee River.  The cold periods prior to the count resulted in some of the birds moving to areas with more open water.

Raptors or hawks were well represented.  The 2 Bald Eagles recorded ties the previous high.  The five Sharp-shinned Hawks, 6 Cooper’s Hawks, equal the previous high counts and the 64 Red-tailed Hawks surpass the previous high of 62.  One Rough-legged Hawk and 6 American Kestrels were located.

Cooper's Hawk on bird it had captured (Karl Egressy)

Cooper’s Hawk on bird it had captured (Karl Egressy)

The 12 Ruffed Grouse is above the average of 7 over the previous counts.  As noted the 306 Wild Turkeys epresent a new high as this species becomes more abundant annually.  On the Otonabee River a single American Coot was found, as species which in the past has been found occasionally on count day.  An average number of gulls were seen on count day and include 93 Ring-billed, 413 Herring, 2 Glaucous, and 3 Great Black-backed Gulls.

Rock Pigeons are doing well with a total of 1705 individuals being found.  A total of 938 Mourning Doves were spotted well above the ten year average of 644.  Four species of owls were located, including 1 Eastern Screech, 6 Great Horned, 1 Snowy, and 2 Barred Owls.  The 2 Barred Owls is a new count high.

A single Belted Kingfisher was found.  Woodpeckers located were 7 Red-bellied (a new high), 61 Downy, 62 Hairy, 6 Pileated which ties the previous high and the 2 Northern Flickers, a species which should be to he south.

The 363 Blue Jays is above the ten year average of 282.  The 578 American Crows is above average and the 24 Northern Ravens is a new high count.  The finding of 2 Horned Larks was a surprise.  A total of 1752 Black-capped Chickadees and 8 Red-breasted Nuthatches were found along with a record number of 116 White-breasted Nuthatches.  Only one secretive Brown Creeper and 6 Golden-crowned Kinglets were spotted.  A single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, single Hermit Thrush and single Gray Catbird were a surprises.  This was the first time in 62 years that a Gray Catbird was located.  It was found by the Dave Milsom and Iain Rayner party in the Television Road area the City.  Only 25 American Robins were found, well below the ten year average of 202.  Lack of wild berries is a factor.

Another bird which should have long departed was a Yellow-rumped Warbler which has been coming to the feeder of Bob and Maxime Prentice for a couple of weeks.  A single Bohemian Waxwing was foiund in a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the Bridgenorth area.  A total of 283 Cedar Waxwings were spotted, above the ten year average of 173.  1095 European Starlings were recorded.

The 108 Northern Cardinals is above the average of 83.  Sparrow highlights include a single Song Sparrow and 10 White-throated Sparrow.  Most of the White-throated Sparrows were associated with feders.  Other sparrows include 302 American Tree Sparrow, and record high of 510 Dark-eyed Junco.  Two parties found flocks of Snow Bunting comprising 213 individuals.

The Luke Berg and Tony Bigg party in the Bridgenorth area found the only Common Grackles (3) and Red-winged Blackbird (1) in a flock of starlings.

A total of six species of winter finches were recorded: 3 Purple Finch, 74 House Finch, 250 Common Redpolls, 9 Pine Siskin, 532 American Goldfinch and 4 Evening Grosbeak.  These species are highly erratic and vary tremendously in numbers from one winter to another.

Evening Grosbeak (male) - Gord Belyea

Evening Grosbeak (male) – Gord Belyea

The final species was House Sparrow with a total of 259 individuals.

The 2014 Peterborough Count is a memorable count with above freezing tempratues, some light drizzle and a record number of participants and species of birds being located.   The participants are citizen scientiests collectively providing valuable data, which when combined with the results from other Christmas Bird Counts provide valuable data on understanding the status of the wintering birds in North America.

The Peterborough Christmas Bird Count is just one of two counts being held this year in Peterborough County.  On December 27 the 29th Petroglyphs Christmas Bird Count will be held.  This count is centered on Petroglyphs Provincial Park and extends northward to the Apsley area.  The compiler for this count is Colin Jones.  Other counts are held in the Port Hope-Cobourg area, the Rice Lake Plain in the Alderville area, Lindsay and the Fenelon Falls area.  Some of the participants in the Peterborough Count will also be participating in other Christmas Birds Counts.

 

Dec 152014
 

The 63rd annual Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 14.  It was a relatively mild day (-1 to +1 deg C)    Here are some of the highlights.

Number of species: 67 (Record high! Previous record was 62.)

Number of participants: 45 (Record high! Previous record was 35.)

Species recorded in a record high number: Red-tailed Hawk (64 vs 62), Wild Turkey (306 vs 287), Rock Pigeon (1705 vs 1538), Common Raven (24 vs 5), White-breasted Nuthatch (116 vs 102), Dark-eyed Junco (510 vs 426)

Equals record:  Pied-billed Grebe (1), Sharp-shinned Hawk (5), Cooper’s Hawk (6), Bald Eagle (2), Barred Owl (2), Snowy Owl (1), Red-bellied Woodpecker (7), Pileated Woodpecker (14), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), Hermit Thrush (1)

New species for the count: Gray Catbird

New Count Period bird: Ross’s Goose

Total number of birds seen: 11,722 (record is 15,015)

Of note were four Evening Grosbeaks (1st since 1999, the large increase in the number of Common Ravens (5 to 24, a trend that appears to be happening in other counts), rare occurrences of Bufflehead, Rough-legged Hawk (1st since 2006), American Coot (1st since 2003), Horned Lark(1st since 2005), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1st seen two years ago), only one Bohemian Waxwing (on our counts they are almost regular every other year, this should be a big year), Yellow-rumped Warbler, since once in 1981, and now three times in the last 4 years), Common Grackle (1st since 2006).

Cooper's Hawk (Karl Egressy)

Cooper’s Hawk (Karl Egressy)

Tony Bigg, co-ordinator

 

 

Gray Catbird - Wikimedia

Gray Catbird – Wikimedia

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Tom Baker

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Tom Baker

Nov 162014
 

Regulars, past participants, newcomers to the area, and newcomers to birding, all are welcome to participate in this long-standing annual winter bird census. They will be partnered with more experienced local birders. More eyes result in more birds seen!  Be prepared for a long day and possibly cold weather.

The count is an all-day affair, starting at daylight, or preferably earlier if you wish to add owls to the day’s list, and finishing in time to make the compilation. The compilation of species seen will be made at the Ashburnham Ale House in the East City on Hunter Street at 5:00 pm.  There is no longer a fee for entry, but allow for the cost of a meal of your choice at the compilation.

The count area consists of a circle of 15 mile (24km) diameter which is divided into 10 separate sections to which groups will be allocated. Group leaders may wish to sub-divide their areas to get better coverage.

Prospective participants should let me know as soon as possible if they are available for this count.  There is always a lot to be done in organizing the groups so please do not leave your reply until the last moment unless absolutely necessary.

If previous participants wish to have certain areas, and join with certain other participants please note this in your replies.  Our average number of participants for the last 10 counts has been over 30 people.

 

Tony Bigg – Co-ordinator,  tanddbigg@sympatico.ca

 

Snow Buntings are found on the Count every year

Snow Buntings are found on the Count every year

Jan 092014
 

 

Between mid-December and early January, birders from across North, Central and South America take a break from the holiday season excess to spend a day in the fresh air, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, Christmas bird counts represent the biggest organized birding event in the world and a holiday tradition for over 50,000 birders each year. They first began from a desire to count birds rather than shoot them. In doing so, they effectively gave birth to North America’s modern conservation movement.

Chemong Road Snowy Owl  (Jeff Keller)

Chemong Road Snowy Owl (Jeff Keller)

We have two local counts. One is centred in Peterborough and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park on the north shore of Stony Lake. Both counts cover a circle 24 kilometres in diameter and take one day each to complete. Working in small groups and covering the circle by car, foot and sometimes even snowshoe or ski, birders work from dawn to dusk identifying and counting all of the birds they can find within the circle on the selected day.  The Peterborough count usually produces about 50 species, while the Petroglyph count averages 34 species. Numbers are lower on the Petroglyph count because there are fewer types of habitat – most of the territory is forested – fewer feeders and most years there is almost no open water. The Petroglyph count circle (including the six areas surveyed) can be viewed by going to:  http://goo.gl/maps/LmG0B

The 62nd Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 15th in temperatures of -15 to -10 C. All areas of still water were frozen. The 35 participants found 51 bird species which is slightly below the ten year count average of 54. The 10189 individual birds recorded was about average for the count.  One new species for the count was discovered, namely a Red-necked Grebe found on the Otonabee River between Beavermead Park and the Little Lake Cemetery. Some other notable birds included a Short-eared Owl, a Snowy Owl, 5 Bufflehead ducks (last seen 2004) and three Long-tailed Ducks. The only other time this Arctic-nesting duck turned up on the count was in 1996.

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

As for numbers of birds, record highs were tallied for Bald Eagles (4), Cooper’s Hawks (10), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (8), Common Raven (10) and Dark-eyed Juncos (453). Snowy Owl (1), Short-eared Owl (1), Belted Kingfisher (3) and Pileated Wood pecker (14) equaled previous records. As is the case every year, there were also notable misses. Observers failed to find any American Black Ducks, Sharp-shinned Hawks or Great Black-backed Gulls.

The most remarkable low number belongs to the once-abundant House Sparrow. Only 39 were recorded, which is the lowest number since the count began.  House Sparrows appear to be declining in Ontario, possibly as a result of changes in farming and building practices as well as increased numbers of bird-eating hawks in urban areas. Finch species that were common on last year’s count such as Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls were completely absent this year, having elected to remain in northern Canada where seed crops are abundant. When these birds move southward in late fall and winter and turn up at our feeders, it is usually because of a lack of wild food in their northern breeding range.   

Male House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

The 28th Petroglyph count took place on January 2nd. The 30 participants braved frigid -27 C temperatures in the early morning as well as strong winds that lasted all day. There is little doubt that these difficult conditions contributed to the relatively low number of individual birds recorded (2165).  Even Black-capped Chickadees were largely unresponsive to the pishing, squeaking and owl call imitations that usually bring them in close to observers.

Despite the weather, species of note were still recorded. Among these were two spectacular Golden Eagles that were seen feeding on Beaver carcasses that a local trapper had put out. Also of special interest were three American Robins – only the fifth time robins have been found on the count – and a Black-backed Woodpecker. Observers stumbled upon this handsome but uncommon woodpecker at Petroglyphs Provincial Park. As for high numbers, a record 126 Wild Turkeys turned up, virtually all of which were at feeders. The 564 Blue Jays recorded was close to the record high of 653. Large numbers of jays took a pass on migrating south this past fall, electing simply to stay put and to take advantage of central Ontario’s abundant crop of acorns and beech nuts to get them through the winter.  Above average numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows were also noted.

                  For the fourth year in a row, no Gray Jays were found. Although single birds have been recorded in both Petroglyphs Provincial Park and the Kawartha Nordic Ski Trails earlier this fall and winter, no family groups have been noted for several years. Prior to 2010, the average count for Gray Jays was 5, and they were recorded every year with the exception of 1990. Gray Jays are one of many species that are expected to decrease in number as the climate warms, especially at the southern edge of their range such as here in the Kawarthas.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Low numbers was the order of the day for Ruffed Grouse. Only nine grouse were recorded which is below the 10-year average of 19 and well below the record high of 77.  As in the Peterborough count, finch diversity was also poor with only three species tallied, namely Red Crossbill, American Goldfinch and Evening Grosbeak.

 

Peterborough Count data  

The first number is the number of birds counted this year, while the number in parenthesis is the average number recorded over the past 10 years. NR stands for “new record,” ER for “equals record, NFC for “new for count”, LE for “lowest ever” and CP for birds seen during the “count period” but not on the day of the count. Red-necked Grebe  1 (0.1) NFC,  Canada Goose 314 (649), Mallard 826 (850), Lesser Scaup 1 (0.1) CP, Common Goldeneye 211 (62), Bufflehead 5 (0.7),  Hooded Merganser 3 (3), Common Merganser 7 (42), Long-tailed Duck 3 (0.3) NR, Bald Eagle 4 (0.9) NR, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 (3) CP, Cooper’s Hawk 10 (5) NR, Red-tailed Hawk 32 (34), American Kestrel 1 (2), Merlin 2 (2), Ruffed Grouse 3 (7), Wild Turkey 147 (119), Ring-billed Gull 13 (114), Herring Gull 9 (245), Glaucous Gull 1 (1) CP,  Rock Pigeon 1141 (955), Mourning Dove 858 (644), Eastern Screech Owl 2 (1), Great Horned Owl 6 (4), Snowy Owl 1 (0.1) ER, Short-eared Owl 1 (0.2) ER, Belted Kingfisher 3 (1) ER, Red-bellied Woodpecker 8 (2) NR, Downy Woodpecker 68 (52), Hairy Woodpecker 61 (38), Northern Flicker 3 (2), Pileated Woodpecker 14 (6) ER, Northern Shrike 7 (7 ), Blue Jay 281 (282), American Crow 568 (424), Common Raven 10 (2) NR, Black-capped Chickadee 1500 (1560), Red-breasted Nuthatch 4 (23), White-breasted Nuthatch 55 (65), Brown Creeper 5 (6), Golden-crowned Kinglet 8 (7),  American Robin 222  (202), Cedar Waxwing 258  (173), European Starling 729 (1334), Northern Cardinal 83 (83), American Tree Sparrow 413 (326), Song Sparrow 2 (0.9 ), White-throated Sparrow 3 (3), Dark-eyed Junco  453 (284) NR, Snow Bunting 1392 (419), Red-winged Blackbird 1 (2),  House Finch 61 (118), American Goldfinch 327 (524), House Sparrow 39 (253) LE, Total birds: 10,179 (10,413), Total species: 51 (54)

 

Golden Eagle (left) & Common Raven  (Tim Dyson)

Golden Eagle (left) & Common Raven (Tim Dyson)

Petroglyphs Count data

Canada Goose 3 (2), Ruffed Grouse 9 (19), Wild Turkey 126 (33) NR, Bald Eagle 6 (6), Red-tailed Hawk  1 (2) CP, Golden Eagle 2 (0.4),  Rock Pigeon 41 (65), Mourning Dove 23 (21), Barred Owl 3 (2), Downy Woodpecker 26  (20), Hairy Woodpecker 55 (39), Black-backed Woodpecker 1 (1), Pileated Woodpecker  9 (11), Blue Jay 564 (307), American Crow 3 (6), Common Raven 80 (105), Black-capped Chickadee 775 (798), Red-breasted Nuthatch 48 (96), White-breasted Nuthatch 35 (61), Brown Creeper  4 (10), Golden-crowned Kinglet 16 (17), American Robin 3 (0.8), European Starling 7 (24),  American Tree Sparrow 73 (24), Dark-eyed Junco 21 (5), Red Crossbill 4 (11), American Goldfinch 202 (187), Evening Grosbeak 4 (40) Total birds: 2165 (2231), Total species: 26 (33)