The World Outdoors: Weather hampers area bird counts
This year’s Christmas bird counts, the annual early-winter census of our avian friends, wrapped up on Friday. Although a common theme among the Southwestern Ontario bird counts (CBCs) was freezing temperatures, there were still interesting observations and lots of participating birders.
“Harsh conditions just prior to the count made walking difficult.” London CBC compiler Pete Read said. He noted fewer sparrows and hawks and said more birds were observed at feeders on Dec. 16.
In spite of the weather, some London records were set. Statistically significant new highs were established for tufted titmouse, bald eagle, red-bellied woodpecker, snow goose, and Eastern bluebird.
Jeff Skevington, compiler for the Dec. 16 Woodstock CBC, reported ravens, rusty and red-winged blackbirds, and Bohemian waxwing among the 70-species total. Highlights of the Dec. 16 Kettle Point count included good gull species and a late cormorant.
The Dec. 17 Blenheim/Rondeau CBC yielded 98 species including the Townsend’s warbler that had been outside Rondeau for some weeks. Other highlights were orange-crowned warbler, red-throated loon, and snowy owl.
“The St. Thomas Field Naturalists Club CBC was on an extremely cold day.” compilers Al and Jackie Sharpe said of their Boxing Day count. “We had 50 people out braving the cold weather with 12 cm. of snow on the ground and the sun shining, but not warming.” they told me.
Sixteen turkey vultures were among their 74-species count day total. “I know London always has a high count of cardinals and this year we recorded 317 of the red birds. Red-bellied woodpeckers were everywhere with a count of 59. Two ring-necked pheasants were a nice surprise.” In the count week, the St. Thomas crew also had a snowy owl on the Port Stanley breakwater.
Compiler Steve Charbonneau reported bitterly cold temperatures, sunny skies, and good birds for the 32nd Wallaceburg CBC that was held on Dec. 27. A total of 86 species on the count day was above the historic average.
Greater white-fronted geese and golden eagle were new species for this count circle. New highs were established for wood duck, wild turkey, pied-billed grebe, pileated woodpecker, and Lapland longspur. Surprisingly, neither great blue heron nor winter wren were observed.
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One of the last area CBCs is the Dec. 30 Stratford count. Compiler Ken Clarke told me very cold temperatures and iced-over water were factors in their relatively low, 39-species total. Although there were no owls counted and few raptors, turkey vultures were seen for the third year in a row. Mute swans were seen at Harrington Pond south of Stratford.
Bird Studies Canada co-ordinates across the country and will publish national results in the early summer. Scientists use count data for research purposes.
- I took in the 53rd international wildlife photographer of the year exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum last week. This is the world’s longest-running nature photography competition. The 100 images range from beautiful — my favourite was a photo of a loon fishing — to powerful. The winning image was a tragic, disturbing image of a rhinoceros whose horn had been sawn off. The show runs to March 18.
- The ROM is holding its own, concurrent Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest that is open to amateur and professional photographers who are residents of Ontario. Entries can be made until Feb. 3 through unlocked Twitter or Instagram accounts by using @ROMtoronto and #ROMWPYON.
- Scott Weidensaul, author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and co-founder of projectsnowstorm.org, already has declared this is an irruptive year for snowy owls. The last snowy owl irruption was four years ago. To listen to a podcast on this, search “snowy owl invasion with Scott Weidensaul.” I saw snowy owls on Egremont Road near School Road in west Middlesex County last weekend.
- National Geographic has declared 2018 the year of the bird. To read about how birds bind us together, how small actions can make a big difference, and more, search “year of the bird National Geographic Society.” I also recommend reading Jonathan Franzen’s feature in their magazine Why Birds Matter and Are Worth Protecting.