By Dianne Cooper Rocky Mountain Naturalists
Over the year-end holidays, the Rocky Mountain Naturalists coordinate the Christmas Bird Counts in Cranbrook and Kimberley. Volunteer counters go into “the field” or watch their home feeders to record every bird spotted around each community.
These data and similar data from over 2,500 location across the western hemisphere are added to the longest-running community science project in the world. This wealth of information on winter bird populations is used to aid bird conservation. For participants, it’s a great day of winter birding. Here are summaries of this year’s counts.
The 22nd annual Christmas Bird Counts for Cranbrook and Kimberley were held on December 28, 2019 and January 4, 2020, respectively.
On Count Day, teams of counters cover as much of a specified 24-km diameter circle as possible to tally all birds they see; feeder counters tally the highest number of a species seen around their yard. Count Week extends three days before and after count day. Any species NOT seen on Count Day but seen during Count Week can be included in the official report to Bird Studies Canada/National Audubon Society (but numbers of individuals of “count week” species are not added to the count tally).
Field observers participating in one or both counts totalled 28 birders and friends, all local residents. Nineteen people contributed feeder counts. Four bird-friendly homes welcomed us into their yards or homes for birds, or birds, tea and cookies! Thanks!
The Cranbrook circle goes from St. Eugene Mission to Green Bay (Moyie Lake) and from Old Wycliffe to Gold Creek. Also included is the Trans-Canada Trail to Rampart Rest Area.
National Audubon Society, Birds Canada (formerly Bird Studies Canada) Count #120
Count day: 28 Dec 2019
Count week: 25 Dec 2019 – 31 Dec 2019
The weather for the Cranbrook count was relatively mild with temperatures ranging from -8 to -4 oC. Winds were calm to very light, there was no precipitation, and Green Bay (Moyie Lake) was mostly open but the Cranbrook sewage lagoons were mostly frozen.
People going out into the field, driving or walking, numbered 18 birders and friends and 12 feeder counts were contributed.
The total number of individual birds counted was 2,153 which is below the average of 2,641.
The 52 species recorded on count day was well above the average 44 species and ties the record of 52 species reached twice before on the 2015 and 2017 counts.
Common Raven (347) was the most numerous species, replacing Bohemian Waxwing (176) for the top spot for only the third time in the past 10 years. Their numbers were above average and about half-way to the max of 571 counted in December 2007.
Mallard (243) numbers were average and about half of the maximum of 434 counted in December 2017.
New Maximum numbers:
Record high counts were recorded for four species this year:
Eurasian Collared-Dove (28) – this is over double the previous high count from 2017. Definitely trending upward.
Canada Jay (13) – PS: has been missed only once in the last 22 counts
Blue Jay (37) – this is the 3rd year in a row we’ve counted a new maximum for Blue Jay.
Black-billed Magpie (6)
Of the 94 species ever recorded on the Cranbrook CBC, 54 species have only been recorded on half of the counts. “Misses” means species that were around before or after the count that we could have got on count day, OR species we usually get but were not seen count day.
Bufflehead – a pair seen count week at Green Bay
Mourning Dove – a half dozen seen in Cranbrook before the count
Northern Pygmy-Owl – not recorded for the past 3 years.
American Robin – seen on the previous 3 counts but not this year.
White-breasted Nuthatch – missed for the 3rd year in a row after being on the count on 17 out of the previous 18 counts
Two “Firsts” were recorded this year for the Cranbrook CBC:
Red-necked Grebe: one seen at Green Bay, Moyie Lake (there’s usually something different there, if its not iced over).
Barred Owl – 1 seen in the headlights during “owling” along King St / Old Wycliffe Rd. Did you know “owling” can be included in the CBC count? Yes, it can! A Barred Owl, the same one or possibly another one, was seen during the daytime in the same area. Neither of these species is considered “rare” for the area, both breed in the summertime here. Red-necked Grebe is unusual in winter because most individuals migrate southward during their non-breeding season. Barred Owl is non-migratory so there are usually some around, just not usually detected any time of year.
Eurasian Collared-Dove (28) – new maximum for the second year in a row
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (183) – above average numbers
European Starling (36) – average numbers
House Sparrow (78) – above average numbers – this is the species that lives in Superstore and Walmart.
One to three – usual and unusual species:
It’s nice to not miss species that are naturally sparse in population density but usually have a few all-year or over-wintering here. This year we got: Merlin (2), Sharp-shinned Hawk (1), Cooper’s Hawk (1), Red-tailed Hawk (2), Northern Shrike (1), and Northern Goshawk (count week – cw) for raptor-type species. are around but not usually sought out nor detected. Also, thanks to a field counter that went owling, Northern Saw-whet Owl (1) was counted for only the 2nd time on the CBC.
Wilson’s Snipe (1) are known to over-winter in warm seeps in the area and this year one was seen near St. Eugene. The Belted Kingfisher (2), Hooded Merganser (1), and Bufflehead (cw) seen will often stay where there is open water. Also, Ruffed Grouse (2) are resident but very good at hiding.
A notable above-average number was counted for Red-breasted Nuthatch (81) – which is almost twice the average. We had good numbers last year, too, but the maximum of 84 is from 2001.
American Dipper (13) was also a high number to get. The maximum was 23 back in December of 2006.
Eleven species were below average. Most notable of these were:
Clark’s Nutcracker (count: 11 / average: 21) – missed on count day last year for the first time in 21 years, so nice to get this year
Townsend’s Solitaire (5/9) – still seen on every count so far
Cassin’s Finch (1/13) – always sporadic whether we will detect this species – they are more common on the Kimberley count because they prefer “wilder” places – habitat closer to less urban development
Pine Siskin (28/54) – surprisingly low numbers considering we got a new maximum last year at 436 birds; but this species is known as an “irruptive” species
Dark-eyed Junco (6/18) – also surprisingly low numbers; a new maximum (149) was set for them last year, too, just like Pine Siskin.
Evening Grosbeak (17/40) – a worrisome trend in all of North America
House Finch (177/257) – still a decent number
Common Redpoll (5/123) – another irruptive species, but this is a very low number
Red Crossbill (25/59) – half of average but surprising since there were so many of them around in the spring. This species breeds all year round, apparently. They must have had a good winter of ‘18-’19 and hopefully they have just moved to higher elevations to have another good breeding season given the milder temperatures so far.
American Crown (21/89) – this species moves around a lot during the day so perhaps they were elsewhere – a new max was recorded last year (293).
Bohemian Waxwing (176/834) numbers were a quarter of their average. They have been missed only once on all 22 Cranbrook counts.
Our favourite feeder birds:
Activity at the feeders seemed slow again this year. Many of the finch-like species had low to very low numbers again but chickadees and woodpeckers were average or above average.
From Page 5
Of the woodpeckers that use our feeders and yards in the winter, Downy (19) and Hairy (17) Woodpecker and Northern Flicker (30) were in good numbers this year (above average) while Pileated Woodpecker (5) was average.
Black-capped Chickadee (158) also had good numbers but Mountain Chickadee (106) had average numbers.
For the Jays: the 13 Canada Jays and 37 Blue Jays were a new maximum, while Steller’s Jay (7) was of average number – which is good considering it was missed last year.
For the Grosbeaks and finches:
Evening Grosbeak (17) was missed last year and this number is half of average.
Pine Grosbeak (40) was also missed last year but the number this year is average for them.
House Finch (177) – below average
Red Crossbill (25) – below average
Common Redpoll (5) – very low
Pine Siskin (28) – very low
American Goldfinch (15) – average
Another feeder favourite that was above average species was Song Sparrow (17).
The Kimberley circle goes from Wasa to Wycliffe and Kimberley to Bummer’s Flats.
Rocky Mountain Naturalists, National Audubon Society, Birds Canada (formerly Bird Studies Canada)
Count day: 4 Jan 2020
Count week: 1 Jan – 7 Jan 2020
The weather for the Kimberley count was mild with temperatures ranging from -1 to 2.8 oC; yes, actually above zero. There were light to moderate snow squalls in the morning with winds up to 12 kph which kept even the ravens from flying around but the afternoon was just fine! Wasa Lake was frozen over but Mark Creek and Cherry Creek were only partly frozen. The Kootenay River was mostly unfrozen, of course.
People going out into the field, driving or walking, numbered 16 birders and friends and 8 feeder / yard counts were contributed.
The 43 species recorded on count day was close to the average of 42 species from the past 22 years. Sadly, the total number of individual birds counted (1,342) was about half the average of 2,405 birds. Windy snowy weather likely contributed to this very low number in addition to absent species or declines of populations.
No new species were added to the Kimberley CBC species list; i.e. no species rare to the area or rare at this time of the year.
Bohemian Waxwing (176) was the most numerous species, as usual …. however! … their count was a sixth of their average number (1,107). This is the third lowest count of Waxwing in 22 years.
Our next most numerous species was Black-capped Chickadee (127) whose numbers were actually below average.
Below average, low, or usually numerous species missed
That Black-capped Chickadee (127) was our second most numerous species shows the low numbers or absence of the others that are usually abundant.
Common Redpoll (30), an irruptive species, was well below average and Pine Siskin (2), another irruptive species, was extremely low compared to their maximum number last year of 394 individuals.
Evening Grosbeak, often numbering 50 to 200, were completely missed this year. This was our second miss in a row for them on the Kimberley count. Their population is decreasing everywhere in North America.
Red Crossbill was also missed despite a new maximum number of birds counted last year. There were many Red Crossbills around last spring so hopefully they have just moved somewhere else.
Also low were Clark’s Nutcracker (11), at a sixth of average, and Dark-eyed Junco (5). Cranbrook had low Junco numbers as well, even though a new maximum was counted there last year. Kimberley numbers last year were above average.
Also missed were Northern Pygmy-Owl, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Golden-crowned Kinglet – all of which are usually sparse at anytime. This was only the second miss in 22 counts for Townsend’s Solitaire.
Count week sightings of Snow Bunting, American Tree Sparrow, and Northern Shrike let us include them in our report to Birds Canada / National Audubon.
Infrequent species and usually low numbers
Of the 81 species ever recorded on the Kimberley CBC, 38 species have been recorded on only half of the counts. Some species, we only get one or two individuals. They are rare in winter, but not necessarily rare at other times of year, or they may have naturally low numbers. This year we managed to find Ruffed Grouse (1), Northern Harrier (1), Rough-legged Hawk (2), Mourning Dove (1), and Belted Kingfisher (1).
New Maximum numbers
Maximum high counts were recorded for five species this year:
Eurasian Collared-Dove (50) – this is two and a half times the previous high count set two years ago.
Bald Eagle (17) numbers do seem to be on the rise and they continue on every count
A few intrepid Red-tailed Hawk (3) do over-winter here.
American Goldfinch (39) numbers are slowly increasing here in the winter. They seem to hop across the Saint Mary’s River to various feeders on either side and end up getting counted on either the Cranbrook or the Kimberley count.
Pygmy Nuthatch (6) is also increasing slowly in the area.
In early December last year, we received a report of 23 Pygmy Nuthatch together in Wycliffe. This was probably three or four families in a flock. During winter several families will flock together and range over a winter foraging territory. They will also roost together in the same cavity, piled up on one another, keeping each other warm. During breeding season, family members will help the main breeding pair defend the nest and feed and raise the young. This is called communal breeding.
Eurasian Collared-Dove (50) – new maximum for the second year in a row
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (73) – higher numbers than average
European Starling (14) – average numbers
House Sparrow (19) – below average numbers
Above-average numbers were counted of Common Goldeney (27), Wild Turkey (78), which has been missed only twice in 22 years, Pileated Woodpecker (12), and Black-billed Magpie. We found the all-white Wild Turkey out on Meadowbrook Settlement Road. Have you seen it? It looks so strange.
As mentioned above, Black-capped Chickadee (127) numbers were below average but not to a significant degree, really.
Also, below average were White-breasted Nuthatch (3), whose numbers peaked back on Count #106. Since they are a resident species, it is concerning that we’ve been getting only a fraction of their peak numbers for the last several counts, and the Cranbrook count has not recorded them for the past three years.
Our favourite feeder and yard birds
Activity at the feeders and in our yards seemed slow again this year, the snow and wind likely having something to do with that. However, except for the low numbers of Common Redpoll (30) and Pine Siskin (2), and the absence of Evening Grosbeak, the counts for most of the seed-eating birds and woodpeckers showed average numbers. American Robin (5) and the smaller corvids, Blue Jay (6), Stellar’s Jay (11), Canada Jay (2), and American Crow (30) also had average numbers.
Counting on one day provides a snap shot of what is in the area. But many birds get missed because they move around and we are not in the right place at the right time to see them. Often homeowners with feeders come out to talk to us as we are peering in their yards and say “Oh, you just missed such-and-such” or they report that a species was there all morning, or all week, but isn’t there now.
Luckily this year, we managed to add 30 birds to our area’s count of Pine Grosbeak (40) because we put in the time at a good feeder yard – but we just about missed them! Even though the four of us had been there for over 15 minutes, none of us detected the birds perched in the tippy-tops of the tall, snow-draped fir trees; they were being so quiet and still. We were right below them but we were enyjoying watching the woodpeckers working up the tree trunks and the chickadees hopping back and forth between feeders and bushes. We heard a few chirps coming from above and looked up into the drifting snowflakes just in time to see about 30 red, yellow, and grey blobs noisily take off northward into the snow squall, jiggling lumps of fresh snow into cascades as they took flight – off to someone else’s feeder perhaps.
If we’d left after 10 minutes we would have missed them, even though they were there. If we’d arrived a few minutes before, we would have seen them at the feeders, probably. Perhaps the arrival of our vehicle had frightened them up into the tree tops; or a raven or small hawk had disturbed them before we got there. But this time, we were in the right place almost at the right time. This is why we appreciate the contributions of the feeder watchers – you know what frequents your area and can monitor throughout the day to get things the field counters might otherwise miss. Thank you!
We always like to get the American Dipper (4) along the frozen edges of the creeks and this year we counted an average number of them. They have been missed only once in the 22 years of the official count.
Winter numbers of Red-winged Blackbird (14) has returned to a more “normal” amount after last years unusually large number (75).
The Count-up potluck was graciously hosted by Caroline and Rob again th