By Dianne Cooper
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 collected over the past century 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 21st annual Christmas Bird Counts for Cranbrook and Kimberley were held on December 29th, 2018 and January 5th, 2019 respectively.
On Count Day, teams of counters cover as much of a defined 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 totaled 50 field counters, feeder watchers and friends. One birder was from Jasper, one from Fernie and the rest were local residents. Twenty-three people contributed counts of birds and their feeders. Five other bird-friendly homes welcomed us into their yards or homes to count their birds and we even got homemade cinnamon buns! 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.
Count #119 (National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada)
Count day: 29 Dec 2018
Count week: 26 Dec 2018 – 1 Jan 2019
Total species, count day: 43
Total species, count week: 7
Total number of individuals: 3,464
The weather for the Cranbrook count was unusually warm, with temperatures ranging from -3 to +5 C; twenty degrees warmer than last year. In the afternoon, there were strong winds, especially in the higher areas, and light rain. Moyie Lake and the Cranbrook sewage lagoons were mostly unfrozen.
People going out into the field, driving or walking, numbered 20 birders and friends and 14 people counted at their feeders.
The total number of individual birds counted was 3,464 which is above the average of 2,665.
The 43 species recorded on count day was close to the 21-year average of 44 species.
Bohemian Waxwing (680) was the most numerous species, as usual but their numbers were seven times below average (867) and well below the record high of almost 5,000 birds in December 2005. Kimberley is also noticing a low number of Waxwings this year and the record crop of mountain ash berries seems to be going un-eaten so far this winter.
Mallard, (or “Mall” – ards, as I call them) were numours as usual (336). This is not as high as last year (434) but still above average. Rock Pigeon (120) numbers were a bit below average. The 293 American Crows counted tied the record high set only two years ago. Common Raven (310), however, were of average numbers.
Record high counts:
Record high counts were recorded for a whopping NINE species this year: Crows as mentioned above, Common Goldeneye (89), and the following:
Eurasian Collared-Dove (10) is definitely here to stay. British Columbia opened the first hunting season for them in the province this year.
Some feeder favorites such as Blue Jay (28), American Goldfinch (66), Dark-eyed Junco (149), and Northern Flicker had very good numbers. The abundance of Junco was noticed earlier in 2018 after being low in number in recent years. Are they are refugees from areas of British Columbia severely affected by wildfires last summer? American Goldfinch (66) have been steadily increasing over the winter in the East Kootenay for the past 20 years.
Pine Siskin (436) have been notably absent in the area the past several years so this year’s count of 5 times average is encouraging. They are known as an irruptive species, as is Common Redpoll and a few other finch species, which means their numbers can fluctuate greatly. Common Redpoll was missed on count day but some were seen during count week, a great disappointment after last year’s count of 268 individuals. We hope they are just somewhere else and the CBC data from other areas may show that.
One to three – usual and unusual:
We usually only ever count a few of some species. This year it was Green-winged Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Northern Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, Brown Creeper, and American Robin (2 – below average).
Ring-necked Duck (2) was recorded for only the second time; Common Merganser (7) for the third time, and American Three-toed Woodpecker (1) also for the third time.
For the first time on the Cranbrook count, Spotted Towhee (1 on count day) and Cedar Waxwing (1 in count week) were recorded. Neither are usual here in the winter but are common breeders in summer.
Other favourite feeder birds:
Notably missing from the feeder lineup this year were Common Redpoll, of which a few were recorded during count week, but neither Grosbeak, Evening nor Pine, were seen. House Finch (148) and House Sparrow (22) were below average. Usual numbers were seen for Mountain Chickadee (97), Downy (17) and Hairy (8) Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker (8), and Song Sparrow (13). Above average numbers were seen of Black-capped Chickadee (142) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (76 – 3rd highest). Record high numbers were counted for Northern Flicker (51), Blue Jay (28), and Dark-eyed Junco (149).
One favorite bird has finally benefitted from a mistake made in its re-naming by the powers-that-be back in 1957. The Gray Jay is now back again to Canada Jay. Afterall, the scientific name has “canada” right in it! And “gray” is spelled “grey” in Canada! It’s a smart and hearty corvid I hope will become Canada’s National bird. We counted six Perisoreus canadensis this year.
Other favorite species spotted were American Dipper (4 – below average), and Townsend’s Solitaire (12 – a bit above average).
Besides the two Grosbeak species mentioned above, some other species missed were Hooded Merganser, a couple of which had been at Green Bay earlier in the month; Bufflehead; Red-tailed Hawk; and Northern Pygmy-Owl,
Several other species usual or known to be in area were missed on count day but recorded in count week. A Great Blue Heron has been living along Joseph Creek all winter and is quite photogenic. A few Rough-legged Hawk, a more-northern breeding raptor, usually over-winters around here. A Great Horned Owl was heard in the Community Forest. A Belted Kingfisher has made the upper mid-reaches of Joseph Creek its home.
Really big misses:
For the first time in 21 years, two common species were not seen on count day nor during count week. We usually get half a dozen Steller’s Jay but this year they were a no-show. Clark’s Nutcracker was also missed. Their population is noticeably declining across their western North American range and environmental groups, including the Rocky Mountain Naturalists, have been attempting to re-establish Limber Pine, their favorite food source, at suitable sites such as Mount Broadwood, near Elko.
The Count-up potluck was graciously hosted by Bob and Gretchen again this year and much warm and good food was provided and consumed. Thanks! And thanks to all!
Count day: 5 January 2019
Count week: 2 – 8 January 2019
Audubon / Bird Studies Canada Count #119 BCKB
Total species, count day: 49
Total species, count week: 5
Total number of individuals: 2,628
The weather and road conditions for the Kimberley count this year were much better than last year. A heavy snowfall the night before count day last year, meant most side roads were un-plowed. It was unusually warm, with temperatures ranging from -5 to -3 oC; ten degrees warmer than last year. Winds were calm to light. Wasa Lake was frozen but the rivers were only partly frozen.
People going out into the field, driving or walking, numbered 22 birders and friends, 10 people reported the birds (or lack of) at their feeders, and several bird-lovers welcomed us into their yards or homes to count their birds.
The total number of individual birds counted was 2,628 which is above the average of 2,458.
The 49 species recorded on count day was above the the 21-year average of 42 species.
The record high for Pine Siskin (394) made them the most numerous species on the count his year, usurping Bohemian Waxwing (326) for only the second time in 21 years. Waxwing numbers were a quarter of usual but there were six times more Siskins around than the previous high of 231 set on count #102.
Siskin numbers were also very high for the Cranbrook count the week before. It’s possible the Siskins from Cranbrook moved up to Kimberley. Or, are Siskin numbers high for counts in other areas, too? Merritt recorded high numbers of them too (CBC preliminary results page, British Columbia Field Ornithologist website) and as the CBC official results get finalized, we can check the data base to see.
Record high counts:
Record high counts were also recorded for some common species: American Crow (222), Common Raven (287), Rock Pigeon (95 – 4 times average), Northern Flicker (45), Red-breasted Nuthatch (127), and Red Crossbill (237). Uncommon species with new high counts were Cassin’s Finch (34 – 9th time on count) and Red-winged Blackbird (75 – 4th time on count).
One to three – usual and unusual:
Species with usual low numbers seen on count day were Ruffed Grouse, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Shrike, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Snow Bunting. During count week, we managed to pick up Cooper’s Hawk, Mourning Dove, and Evening Grosbeak as well as: a Northern Goshawk on the ground having a meal in the Nature Park, and a Dusky Grouse displaying from atop a skier’s vehicle on the ski hill â€“ this is the first time for this species on either the Kimberley or Cranbrook counts. House Sparrow (3) numbers were 10th of average.
A couple of breeding birds stayed behind this year: an American Kestrel – first time for the Kimberley count, and a Brewer’s Blackbird – fourth time on either count.
Our favourite feeder birds:
Many feeder watchers, especially in the Clearview area, were concerned about the lack of activity at their feeders this winter. While the counts for many species – Downy Woodpecker (18), Hairy Woodpecker (13), Pileated Woodpecker (10), Black-capped Chickadee (121), Mountain Chickadee (91), Chestnut-backed Chickadee (2), and White-breasted Nuthatch (5) seemed low, they were average or only a bit below average for the whole Kimberley circle. Common Redpoll (92) was half of average, however. But above average numbers were recorded for Blue Jay (13), Dark-eyed Junco (45), Song Sparrow (12), and House Finch (135); and record highs were recorded for Northern Flicker (45), Red-breasted Nuthatch (127), and Red Crossbill (237). A feeder watcher there did manage to get the only Pine Grosbeaks (8) recorded in the circle. This is well-below the average of 47, however. So, it appears most of the birds usually at Clearview were preferring Kimberley and Meadowbrook, this year.
Four Perisoreus canadensis (Canada Jay, aka Gray Jay) were counted this year (see the Cranbrook count results above for a comment on this name change) and 6 Steller’s Jay.
Eight Eurasian Collared-Doves were counted this year. See Cranbrook count results above for discussion.
Other favorite species spotted were Wild Turkey (22 – half of average), Bald Eagle (13), Black-billed Magpie (12), Clark’s Nutcracker (38 – half of average; see Cranbrook count results above for discussion), Brown Creeper (7 – record high), American Dipper (5), Golden-crowned Kinglet (5), Townsend’s Solitaire (15 – above average), American Robin (7), and American Goldfinch (4 – second lowest).
American Tree Sparrow was missed after being on the previous six counts. Northern Pygmy-Owl was missed on both the Kimberley and Cranbrook counts (including count week). Mourning Dove was missed for the 3rd time in a row, and Merlin was missed for the 5th time in a row.
For the complete results see below.
A big thank you to count-up potluck hosts Caroline and Rob.
Thanks to all field counters, drivers, recordists, feeder counters and everyone that helped make these counts successful once again! Mark your calendars for similar dates next year!
Official count lists are available here.