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A female cardinal, spotted during the recent Christmas bird count.

Surprises on annual bird count

Despite snowy weather, participants in this year’s local Christmas bird count managed to spot 47 different species, including an American Pipit, a first-ever for the local count.

Other highlights included two lapland longspurs, three bald eagles, and record high counts of wild turkeys, northern cardinals and mourning doves.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve averaged 46 species on our annual count, so this year was about normal,” said count organizer Ken Clarke. “During the week, four additional species – pine siskin, brown creeper, tufted titmouse and hooded merganser – were also reported.”

Clarke explained that while American pipits pass through Southern Ontario on their spring and fall migration, they would typically be south of the border by this time of year.

However, a group of Stratford birders was fortunate enough to find one feeding in a farm field west of Brooksdale with a mixed group of snow buntings, horned larks and doves.

The longspurs were also found in Zorra Township, on the south side of the Perth-Oxford Road near Line 31, while the eagles were seen near Wildwood Dam.

The Stratford count circle includes all of the city, plus rural areas including the communities of Tavistock, Maplewood, Brooksdale, Harrington, St. Pauls, Avonton and part of Sebringville.

This year’s count, held Dec. 29, was the 29th time the Stratford Field Naturalists have organized an official count in the area. Twenty-five experienced and novice birders took part, spotting about 10,000 birds.

Count results vary depending on location, weather, the number of participants and the time they spend searching for birds.

Clarke explained that because temperatures were between minus five and minus two degrees this year, there was a lot less open water than in 2011 when temperatures were above zero. That meant fewer gulls and waterfowl to see, though there were still 1,200 mallards and about 1,500 Canada geese counted, as well as 41 American black ducks and six mute swans.

Turkey numbers in the Stratford area have grown steadily since the birds were re-introduced in Southwestern Ontario in 1984. They’ve been found on every area bird count since 2004, with this year’s total of 227 birds representing a big jump from the 137 seen last year and the 122 counted in 2010.

The new record set for cardinals this year was 133,  a bit of a surprise after seeing only 34 last year.

This year’s tally of 414 doves was also well above the 84 seen last year, and 43 common redpolls were reported, whereas none were seen in 2011.

A bird that was in short supply on this year’s count was the American robin. Only one was found in the Stratford east zone. The previous year 27 were spotted, mostly south and west of the city.

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