Sunday, 31 December 2017

Desbarats Christmas Bird Count 2017

Another day, another bird count.  This time it's in Desbarats, Ontario.  This is the count that I created last year as a event for The Kensington Conservancy (TKC), the land trust that I work for.  Last year, in our inaugural count, we had 35 species recorded, so that was our goal to beat.

The day started off great.  I spent the night at my parent's house in Hilton Beach and my dad and I did some owling before the sun came up.  At our second stop, we hit the jackpot.  A Northern Hawk Owl responded with an alarm call to the Barred Owl playback.  This was a new bird for the count, a lifer for both of us, and my dad's 200th species on the year for the Algoma District.  He was worried he was going to get stuck on 199!

We then went our separate ways, as we had different areas to cover.  I met up with my group and the five of us started birding!  As we were driving along Highway 17 to our first destination, we came across a large flock of Snow Buntings.  I estimated about 150 birds and got some photos of a portion of the flock before they flew into the back of the field.  Many American Crows and Common Ravens were coming out of their roosts, so we got good counts of them while we were stopped.

We arrived at the Archibald Homestead, a 169 acre property owned by TKC.  A lone male Pine Grosbeak flew overhead as soon as we got out of the truck, more crows and ravens were counted and we added Black-capped Chickadee and Golden-crowned Kinglet as we snowshoed around the property.

We then headed back into Desbarats to try and find some feeders.  We found two very productive spots, which gave us new species for the day in Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, both nuthatches, Purple Finch, European Starling and Blue Jay.

Our next stop was the Black Hole Preserve, another TKC property.  We only saw three species here, Pine Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch.  However, the wildlife tracks were plentiful.  We saw tracks from Ruffed Grouse, Snowshoe Hare, what was likely a Red Squirrel, Ermine, Northern River Otter, Eastern Coyote, White-tailed Deer and Moose.  We also came across a mysterious spot where a bird landed then took off again.  It was definitely not a typical Ruffed Grouse hole.  There was no scat or anything else down in the hole.  Here are the photos in case anyone knows something that we didn't!




By now, it was lunch time and we headed back to the TKC Conservation Centre.  After warming up and eating, the rest of my group took off for the day.  My dad showed up as well and we decided to do some more driving around.  We were able to add Ruffed Grouse, Rock Pigeon and Pileated Woodpecker for his area and American Goldfinch for mine.  He then went home and I continued driving around.  I was able to add Ruffed Grouse, Common Redpoll and Pileated Woodpecker for my area.  That gave my area a total of 18 species, two more than I had last year in the same area.

Ruffed Grouse

It was now time to participate in another Christmas Bird Count!  The Neebish-Dunbar count, which is almost entirely in Michigan, includes a small sliver on the northeast corner of St. Joseph Island.  they were looking for some to cover that section and I said I'd do it, assuming I had time after doing the Desbarats CBC.  I spent about 50 minutes and got Blac-capped Chickadee, Common Raven, American Crow, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Bald Eagle and Ruffed Grouse.  Nothing too exciting, but a few numbers to add to their totals!  The full results can be found here.

Now that the Christmas Bird Count is over for me, it's time to start up that 2018 list once the clock strikes midnight tonight!

Full results for the Desbarats CBC can be found on The Kensington Conservancy's website here.

Rudyard Christmas Bird Count 2017

Rudyard, Michigan, best known for it's abundance of Snowy Owls during the winter, finally got a Christmas Bird Count.  I had the opportunity to participate in this inaugural and was really excited for it.  I was paired up with Rob Routledge, one of my professors from my time at Sault College, and although the Snowy Owl hotspot wasn't in our assigned area, I was sure we'd still come across some cool birds.

We were supposed to meet at the Rudyard Township building at 7:30am, but Rob and I were half an hour early, so we tried our luck to find some nocturnal Snowy Owl.  We ended up being successful, as the truck lights picked up one sitting on top of a utility pole.  We didn't count it though, because this wasn't in our assigned area and would surely be found again by the area's assigned group.

Once we met all the other groups and determined when we were meeting for lunch, it was starting to get light out, so off we went.  Our day started off with six Wild Turkeys still roosting up in some trees, some American Crows and Common Ravens flying around, a flock of Common Redpolls and a Ruffed Grouse eating buds in a tree. 

It wasn't long before we came across our first Snowy Owl of the day.  It was a fair distance back in a field, so I could not get decent photos of it unfortunately.  However, it was not our last one of the day, as we end up with four total and I got photos of the other three.  Not bad considering we didn't have the prime Snowy Owl location.




Our highlight of the day was a lingering American Kestrel.  It was hanging out on the top of a tall spruce tree overlooking a farm.  We noted many European Starling and House Sparrows at the farm, so maybe that's what it was feeding on.  It was a fair ways from the road and had it's back to us, but I got the record shot.


By the time 1:30pm rolled around, which is when we planned to meet everyone in Rudyard for lunch, Rob and I had a total of 20 species, which wasn't too bad, considering this was an inland count with no chance of waterfowl.  Lunch was fantastic and it was great to talk more with some of Northern Michigan's fine birders.


After having lunch, a group of us decided to take a drive up to the Hulbert Bog (which is actually a swamp) to look for Gray Jays.  We ended up finding two of them.  A new species for my Michigan life list!



At this point, it was starting to get dark, so we called it a day and headed home.  I got to bed early as I had the Desbarats Christmas Bird Count to run the next day.

As for the total results of the count, click here. 41 species is a really good total for the inaugural count and gives us a number to beat for next year!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Sault Ste. Marie Christmas Bird Count 2017

Saturday was the Sault Ste. Marie Christmas Bird Count.  This year is my first year as one of the co-compilers for the count.  My job is to compile all the data after the count.  It's a big task, with 18 different routes and many feeder watchers, but nothing I couldn't handle.

I was assigned to do the M5 route on the Michigan side of the river.  This route was the most southern section of the circle and probably the best habitat to find Snowy Owls and other raptors.  I went scouting the weekend before, just to get an idea of the area, since I was not familiar with it at all.  We didn't see much of interest, but we didn't bird anywhere near as intensely as we would have if were were actually doing a CBC.  There were five waterfowl species, but we feared the water would freeze up come count day with the cold weather forecast looming.

My birding partner for the day and I arrived at the edge of our route at 7:55am, just as it became light enough to see.  About 10m down the road, I heard the first Black-capped Chickadee call not of the day.  We stopped and stood in this area for a while, which turned out to be productive.  In addition to a few chickadees, two American Goldfinches were heard, a few American Crows flew over and some Wild Turkeys flew out of their roost and into someone's driveway.  We continued down to the end of the road, which was 6km, over the course of the next hour.  We were up to 11 species now.  We got two unexpected, but no unusual Golden-crowned Kinglets, some American Tree Sparrows, a Common Raven, a Hairy Woodpecker, a Downy Woodpecker, a calling White-breasted Nuthatch and some flyover Common Redpolls.

Within the next hour, we came across three different flocks of Sharp-tailed Grouse for a total of 29.  The only good photo I got all day was this one of three Sharp-tailed Grouse in a pine tree.


By the time we got over to the river, my fear had come true.  The only open water remaining was right down the middle of the channels.  There was no waterfowl to be found at any of the vantage points during the three times we checked throughout the day.  By the end of the morning, we added Herring Gull, Bald Eagle, Mourning Dove, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rock Pigeon and Blue Jay to bring us up to 18 species.

The afternoon dragged on and we barely added anything to our list.  A Pileated Woodpecker was the only new species we saw after lunch.  We were at 19 species and desperately looking to add our 20th.  I've never wanted to see a European Starling in our life.

By 4:00pm, we were so tired that we called it quits.  It was a real joy to came back to an hour long wait to get across the International Bridge and back into Canada.  I made it just in time to the results potluck that I was supposed to run!

Most of the results have been submitted at this point.  Some of the highlights include three late staying birds, a Peregine Falcon, a Belted Kingfisher and a Great Blue Heron, plus an always rare for the area Carolina Wren.  Total numbers and species were down, but it was a pretty cold day, which likely explains it.The full results are available below.

I've got two more CBC's to complete this season.  One in Rudyard, Michigan, which is actually an inaugural count, and my very own Desbarats, Ontario count.

2017 Raw Data: https://drive.google.com/open…
2017 Count Summary: https://drive.google.com/open?id=18pS5WySl-PXwo5XYBmrc488cGFy0qk20
Historical SSM CBC Data: https://drive.google.com/open…