Monday 23 December 2013

Ice storm impacts on birds

The recent ice storm across eastern Canada has been pretty impressive, making for some really nice scenery with all that build up of ice on everything
View from my desk
Near Kingston we have about 1+cm of ice on most surfaces
All that ice is making for many of power outages and broken branches/trees but it is also tough on birds. Raptors might have trouble getting food underneath the hard crust of ice but it also impacts many other birds in lots of ways.

Mourning Doves are relative newcomers to Ontario from further south. They're not very well adapted for our winter conditions and you often see them with missing toenails due to frost bite. At my feeders many Mourning Doves have damaged tails from the ice:

Are you seeing impacts to birds/wildlife from the storm?

edit: here's the Kitchener CBC results for Mourning Dove:

Sunday 22 December 2013

79th annual Kitchener Christmas Bird Count

The 79th Kitchener CBC was held, as usual, on the first Saturday of the count period, which fell on December 14, 2013. 

A few words about this year’s weather are certainly in order. Unlike the past couple of years, winter certainly arrived well before the count happened. That froze up many bodies of water, including the Grand River in places. The wintery lead-up meant that many species that sometimes linger (especially waterfowl) were non-existent this year. In addition, the actual count day was down-right miserable with 10-20 cm of snow to start the day with another 5-10 cm falling continuously throughout the day. The whole day was cold (low of -13.9° C, “high” of -11.0° C), windy (15-35 km/h out of the southeast), and decidedly wintery-feeling!

The weather on count day had the negative effect of fewer hours spent walking around and more time driving in cars, so species and numbers were undoubtedly missed. Many birds were simply riding out the storm on the day of the count too, making counting them difficult.  

As if the weather wasn’t enough, tree seed crops in the boreal forest was excellent this year, so the finches from the north that have been present the last couple years opted to stay north this year.

Still, despite all of the odds stacked against us, 59 species were recorded on count day, just below the twenty-year average of 60. Three additional species were observed during count week (Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Swamp Sparrow). 60 field observers and 41 feeder watchers1 logged a record total of just under 190 hours finding 24,618 individuals, pretty much right on the twenty-year average of 24,524.  No new species were added to the official count list. What follows is a list of highs, lows, and unusual species and then the complete list of results for this year’s count.

Unusual species: Greater Scaup (2nd record), Gray Catbird (3rd record), Brown Thrasher (5th record), Lesser Black-backed Gull (7th record), Red-breasted Merganser (8th record), Snowy Owl (8th record).

New highs: Canada Goose (8,428, previous high 7,213 in 2010), Lesser Black-backed Gull (4, previous high 3 in 2011), Snowy Owl (2, ties previous high of 2 in 1992).

Other high counts (20 year average): Iceland Gull 6 (1.4), Horned Lark 118 (32), Red-bellied Woodpecker 32 (10), Eastern Screech-Owl 22 (9), Bald Eagle 4 (2), Wild Turkey 134 (58), White-throated Sparrow 12 (7), Slate-colored Junco 1,052 (654), Northern Cardinal 379 (253), American Robin 140 (94).

Low counts (20 year average): Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 (9), Great Black-backed Gull 6 (45), American Kestrel 1 (7), Ring-billed Gull 99 (704), Cedar Waxwing 22 (125), Song Sparrow 3 (15), American Black Duck 21 (77), Herring Gull 386 (1185), Winter Wren 1 (3), Bufflehead 6 (12).

Notable misses (times recorded on last 20 counts): Swamp Sparrow (17), Carolina Wren (11), Ruffed Grouse (11), Merlin (9), all finches besides House Finch and American Goldfinch, and all blackbirds.

Thanks to all 101! counters we had helping make this year another success, and to Virgil and Beth Martin for hosting our wrap-up meeting and dinner.

The full results will be available on the KWFN webpage and through the Audubon CBC page.  Next year’s count will be held on December 20, 2013-mark your calendars!

Click here for a map showing the location of the Kitchener Christmas Bird Count.

1 Thanks to an article posted the week before the count in The Record, we had a tremendous response with 33 new feeder counts because of it.

Brown Thrasher at Laurel Creek. Photo by Laura Ehnes
Gray Catbird at Woodside Park. Photo by Doug Martin
Species Total
Great Blue Heron 6
Canada Goose 8,428
American Black Duck 21
Mallard 2,983
Greater Scaup 2
Common Goldeneye 158
Bufflehead 6
Hooded Merganser 1
Common Merganser 188
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Bald Eagle 4
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 7
Red-tailed Hawk 43
Rough-legged Hawk 3
American Kestrel 1
Merlin cw
Peregrine Falcon cw
Wild Turkey 134
Ring-billed Gull 99
Herring Gull 386
Iceland Gull 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull 4
Glaucous Gull 5
Great Black-backed Gull 6
Rock Pigeon 441
Mourning Dove 576
Eastern Screech-Owl 22
Great Horned Owl 6
Snowy Owl 2
Belted Kingfisher 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 32
Downy Woodpecker 127
Hairy Woodpecker 38
Northern Flicker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 4
Horned Lark 118
Blue Jay 192
American Crow 3,205
Black-capped Chickadee 936
Red-breasted Nuthatch 38
White-breasted Nuthatch 78
Brown Creeper 15
Winter Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 54
American Robin 140
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
Cedar Waxwing 22
Northern Shrike 3
European Starling 2,668
Northern Cardinal 379
American Tree Sparrow 342
Song Sparrow 3
Swamp Sparrow cw
White-throated Sparrow 12
"Slate-coloured" Junco 1,052
Snow Bunting 158
House Finch 190
American Goldfinch 512
House Sparrow 676
Field observers 60
Feeder watchers 41
Total observers 101
Parties-max 30
Parties-min 22
Hours-car 44.6
Hours-foot 101.35
Hours-feeder 43.833
Hours-total 189.78
KM-car 993
KM-foot 139.3
KM-tot 1132.3
Hours-owling 8
KM-owling 80

With 79 years of continuous coverage and counting it is very interesting to look at trends in the different species. Keep in mind none of these are adjusted for effort. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure :)
American Kestrel

Canada Goose

House Finch

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Ruffed Grouse

Wild Turkey

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Thick-billed Murre in Kingston

Yesterday afternoon Janice Grant found a Thick-billed Murre on the Kingston waterfront. She called Mark Read who was able to confirm it as a Thick-billed Murre, follow it as it swam east along the lake shore and get a few local birders on it (side note, in two weeks Erica and I will become local birders in Kingston!). Mark posted to Ontbirds late in the day and not surprisingly many birders made plans to be there for first light.

I wasn't one of them because I had a meeting in the morning (which was cancelled due to the weather) but once the freezing rain cleared I made it out to try my luck before working the rest of the day from a local library.  Initially when we arrived my heart dropped a bit because there were only two birders present and all I saw were a couple of Common Loons in the harbour. However, a couple seconds later and I realized I was looking too far away - the bird was only about 20ft from the birders!

Needless to say, great views of this rare bird

I even took a short video - Erica's commentary sums it up:

Apparently, Thick-billed Murre used to occur semi-regularly on Lake Ontario in late fall/early winter but that hasn't been the case since the 1950s

The Birds of Hamilton by Bob Curry has a good summary of Thick-billed Murre in Ontario listing records from about a dozen years before the mid 1950s, some with fairly extensive "wrecks" of multiple birds.

[EDIT: Thanks to Glenn Coady for the following references if you are interested in Thick-billed Murre history:
Fleming, J.H. 1907. The unusual migration of Brunnich's Murre (Uria lomvia) in eastern North America. Proceedings of the IV International Ornithological Congress, pp. 528-543.

Hoyes Lloyd's review of the Birds of Ottawa:
Lloyd, H. 1923. The birds of Ottawa, 1923. Canadian Field-Naturalist 37: 101-115; 125-127; 151-156.
Lloyd, H. 1924. The birds of Ottawa, 1923 [conclusion]. Canadian Field-Naturalist 38: 10-16
Lloyd, H. 1944. The birds of Ottawa, 1944. Canadian Field Naturalist 58: 143-175.]

However, since then there have only been two documented records for Ontario:
1995: 5-6 December, Deschenes Rapids, Ottawa River, Ottawa. Found by Bruce Di Labio
1998: 29 November, Burlington Ship Canal, Hamilton. Found by Robert M. Sachs, Sheila Bowslaugh, Eleanor Sachs, and Carl J. Rothfels

The Ottawa record apparently was originally identified as a Razorbill (pretty easy to do when it isn't at your feet!) and it wasn't realized what it was until the morning of December 6. Since many birders already had Razorbill on their Ontario lists many missed out on this bird even though it was technically chase-able. Even relatively local birders missed this bird for that reason because there was only a couple hours between when its real identity was realized and the time it disappeared [edit - according to an anonymous comment it was killed by a Gyrfalcon!!].