By all counts, 2012 was for the birds.
Brandon’s 32nd official Christmas Bird Count, which took place Dec. 16, set a record for species sightings.
That Sunday afternoon, Mother Nature was more than obliging — while overcast conditions prevailed, there was only a slight northwest breeze and an afternoon high of 9 C made for a very enjoyable day to be out.
There was more snow on the landscape than last year’s sparse snow pack (there was no need for snowshoes); however, numerous localized ice patches made for some cautious walking and driving.
This year there were 11 field parties consisting of 33 participants covering the 24 kilometre diameter count circle centred at the junction of Victoria Avenue and 18th Street.
In addition there was a record setting 31 feeder watchers diligently monitoring their feeders for birds both within and outside city limits within the count area.
The field observers logged a total of 849.5 kilometres by vehicle and covered 58.5 km by foot.
By all accounts, this year’s Brandon count was the best ever since its beginnings in 1981.
An abundant source of food in the form of berries and cones and in some cases well-stocked feeders, along with a relatively mild winter and some open river water to date, may at least partially account for the wide variety of birds seen.
A record high 46 species of birds were identified, with one additional species being seen during count week (three days before and three days after Sunday’s count day).
There was even a new species added — not one but two White-crowned Sparrows were seen in the southeast part of the city.
The Brandon counts cumulative total now stands at a very respectable 85 species.
The following is a summary of this year’s count day birds seen by the field parties and feeder watchers. The previous year’s (2011) count numbers are included in brackets for interest.
Canada Goose 6 (0); Common Goldeneye 2 (0); Common Merganser 1 (0); Gray Partridge 103 (85); Sharp-tailed Grouse 52 (59); Bald Eagle 1 (3); Accipiter sp. 1 (Sharp-shinned Hawk 1); Merlin 3 (2); Rock Pigeon 484 (598); Mourning Dove 1 (1); Great Horned Owl 4 (5); Snowy Owl 3 (5); Downy Woodpecker 66 (35); Hairy Woodpecker 31 ( 20); Northern Flicker 2 (2); Northern Shrike 1 (3); Blue Jay 54 (100); Black-billed Magpie 121 (132); American Crow 15 (2); Common Raven 205 (63); Black-capped Chickadee 364 (280); Red-breasted Nuthatch 97 (6); White-breasted Nuthatch 112 (71); Brown Creeper 5 (2); Golden-crowned Kinglet 4 (4); American Robin 3 (6); European Starling 66 (76); Bohemian Waxwing 579 (53); Cedar Waxwing 6 (1); White-throated Sparrow 1 (0); White-crowned Sparrow 2 (0); Dark-eyed Junco 54 (13); Snow Bunting 480 (220); Red-winged Blackbird 1 (1); Common Grackle 10 (0); Pine Grosbeak 154 (30); Purple Finch 3 (4); House Finch 117 (53); Red Crossbill 65 (0); White-winged Crossbill 438 (0); Common Redpoll 778 (369); Hoary Redpoll 2 (3); Pine Siskin 57 (7); American Goldfinch 1 (10); Evening Grosbeak 2 (0) and House Sparrow 3472 (2452).
Total species: 46 (42) and total individual birds: 8,029 (4,807). A flock of six Eurasian Collared-Doves were count week birds only.
Some good coverage of the Assiniboine River this year by the Ogilvie/Jordon field party resulted in the waterfowl observations.
The adult Bald Eagle was at the Brandon Research Station; these majestic birds seem to be wintering with greater frequency in southern Manitoba now.
The ever present Merlins, years ago called Pigeon Hawks, no doubt have a great food source in the abundant House Sparrow population.
Unfortunately the six Eurasian Collared-Doves which had consistently been frequenting Evelyn Thompson’s feeders gave us the slip on count day but were found nearby for count week.
The hardy Mourning Dove at Dave Barnes’s feeders came through for us. This species has been seen on seven of Brandon’s counts over the years.
The highest numbers of both American Crows and Common Ravens were counted this year — there is little question that the latter species’ population has really "taken off".
Strangely enough numbers of Blue Jays (also a member of the Crow family) really dipped from last year.
On the other hand, and as feeder watchers can attest, this is another boom year for the tiny but highly energetic Red-breasted Nuthatch. Not since 2007 have so many been seen.
However, the real story on this year’s count involves the winter finches, specifically the crossbills. Not since 1989 have both these species appeared in such numbers and it has been one impressive show.
This year’s abundant spruce and pine cone crop can certainly be a contributing factor. The bill of both the White-winged and Red Crossbill which is designed to open hard cones overlaps giving their heads a parrot like appearance and they can allow close approach while feeding on the ground or in the trees.
Pine Grosbeaks have also made an impressive showing in numbers even exceeding that of 1985.
On the other hand this has not been a winter for American Goldfinches; only one was seen and that was at the feeder of Don and Dianne Baker. Maybe next winter…
Field participants for this count (in alphabetical order) were: Erica Alex, Ken and Colleen Barclay, Dave Barnes, Clayton Baumung, Linda Boyes, Dan and daughter Deanna Chranowski, Cal Cuthbert (compiler), Deb Foster, Vern Gilbertson, Roger Groska, Siona Jeffries, Ted Jordon, Ken Kingdon, Ryan Lowe, Brian and Lynn Manns, Gordon Ogilvie, Jim Ogilvie, Louanne Reid, Millie Reid, Gwuen and Gillian Richards, Murray and Carole Sangster, Liz Shewchuk, Paul Shore, Laurie Skinner, Harold Stewart, Lynn Whidden, Wendy Wolfe and Margaret Yorke.
Feeder watchers included Don and Dianne Baker, Norman and Edith Baker, Adam and Rosalind Brown, Jim Cornett, Warren and Barbara Coughlin, Dwight and Faye Curkener, Roland and Colleen Elliott, Jack and Arlene Elves, Jean Horton, Richard Hutchings, Lawrence and Elizabeth Kelly, Anita Kenny, Don and Donna Leech, Kathy McKiernan, John Montgomery, Gene Rankin, Richard Rounds, Betty Stewart, Evelyn Thompson, Ken Ure, Bud and Jean White,
If you are interested in participating in next year’s count, either as a field participant or feeder watcher, give Cal a call at 727-2239.
It’s not just about counting birds. Data from Christmas Bird Counts such as Brandon’s are at the heart of hundreds of peer reviewed scientific studies and help inform decisions by wildlife managers across Canada. The many decades of data not only identify birds in need of conservation action, but also reveal success stories.
Learn more about the Christmas Bird Count at www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc.
Bird Count finds Hawk Owl living in Manitoba
MINNEDOSA — We all know Snowbirds who head south to warm locations for the winter. Not many choose Minnedosa as that warm location, but the volunteers of the 32nd Annual Minnedosa Christmas Bird Count found one.
Northern Hawk Owls live most of their lives in the Northern Coniferous forests, moving further afield when prey populations are low at home.
Armed with binoculars and note books, local volunteers covered a 24 kilometre diameter circle surrounding Minnedosa and identified and counted all the birds they could identify on Dec. 29.
Highlights of this year’s Minnedosa count were the Northern Hawk Owl patrolling the south side of town, numerous Red and White winged Crossbills feeding on spruce cones and sunflowers and a Mourning Dove frequenting a feeder near Bethany.
Although the area of open water has been restricted by the recent deep cold, our long- term resident Canada Goose with its mallard duck buddies are toughing out the winter below the dam.
Data from the Christmas count are at the heart of several scientific reports, including Audubon’s recent report that climate change is already having an impact on birds across the continent.
The CBC began a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history.
On Christmas Day in 1900, the small group posed an alternative to the "side hunt," a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Instead, Chapman proposed that they identify, count, and record all the birds they saw, founding what is now considered to be the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation effort .
"When Frank Chapman started the Christmas Bird Count, it was a visionary act," said Bird Studies Canada president George Finney. "No one could have predicted how important the count would become as a resource and a tool for conservation."