Over 4,000 birds spotted at Christmas bird count

This pair of snowy owls, a male and a female, have been spotted in the Ten Mile Point area recently and were among the species counted during the annual Christmas bird count in Mindemoya. photos by John Savage

by Chris Bell

MANITOULIN–Over 4,000 birds of 53 species were counted in the 41st annual Mindemoya Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 20. Uncommon birds for this time of year included a pair of sandhill cranes, two red-headed woodpeckers, a brown thrasher, a meadowlark and a white-crowned sparrow.

Twenty-nine birders in 11 groups and 31 feeder watchers, including five new volunteers, took part this year. Feeders attract birds and organinzers are always looking to recruit new feeder watchers who live inside the 15-mile diameter circle.

Conditions on count day were nearly perfect and made for an enjoyable count. The weather was fine with temperatures from -7 to -4°C, light winds, and no snow or rain. There was only about 5 cm of snow on the ground and driving and walking conditions were good.

However, the count date was later than usual and the large inland lakes, including Lake Manitou and Lake Kagawong, froze over the night before count day.

Waterfowl numbers were down this year but two Canada geese were found in West Bay.

Perhaps because the snow cover has been minimal it has been a good count for some birds of prey. Eleven rough-legged hawks were seen in farming country as were the four snowy owls in Central Manitoulin. Several of these northern owls had arrived in November from the arctic and they found the food supply was good here. These four have stayed. Prior to this count we had only spotted one on a Mindemoya Christmas Count this century.

The sandhill cranes were seen from Hwy 540/551 and the two barred owls were heard by two keen feeder-watchers who went out at night to listen.

Blue jay numbers increase in winter and many arrived on Manitoulin this year. They are numerous both at bird feeders and in the bush and 506 were counted—a new high record.

It has been a very wet fall and some low-lying fields were not harvested. The grain proved popular for large flocks of snow buntings

Several types of finches wander the country in winter and the numbers on Manitoulin change drastically from winter to winter. Common redpolls are wintering this year in record numbers a year after we only counted 15 of them. Purple finches were the most seen finch last year but only four were counted this year. American goldfinches are now quite common and were seen at 15 of the feeders. The other usual finches were scarce but all were reported except evening grosbeaks.

Many of the bird feeders were very productive this year with nine feeder-watchers reporting 12 or more bird species.

Ray Webster of Perivale Road West counted 16 species including two rare red-headed woodpeckers and will receive the 2014 award for the most successful feeder watcher. The young woodpeckers were still in juvenile plumage with brown rather than red heads.

The Mindemoya Christmas Bird Count is a project of the Manitoulin Nature Club.

The following is a full list of birds seen: two Canada goose, 50 black duck, 113 mallard, 17 long-tailed duck, eight common goldeneye, 203 common merganser, 53 ring-necked pheasant, 13 ruffed grouse, four sharp-tailed grouse, 32 bald eagle, one cooper’s hawk, one red-tailed hawk, 12 rough-legged hawk, two sandhill crane, 167 herring gull, 13 great blacked gull, 159 rock pigeon, 138 mourning dove, four snowy owl, two barred owl, two red-headed woodpecker, nine red-bellied woodpecker, 49 downy woodpecker, 61 hairy woodpecker, 12 pileated woodpecker, one Merlin, one northern shrike, 506 blue jay, 178 American crow, 168 common raven, eight horned lark, 436 black-capped chickadee, 21 red-breasted nuthatch, 39 white-breasted nuthatch, one brown thrasher, 253 European starling, one lapland longspur, 516 snow bunting, 26 American tree sparrow, three white-throated sparrow, one white-crowned sparrow, 35 dark-eyed junco, 15 Northern cardinal, one meadowlark, 10 rusty blackbird, two common grackle, 16 pine grosbeak, four purple finch, 696 common redpoll, one hoary redpoll, 13 pine siskin, 240 American goldfinch and 21 house sparrow for a total of 4,339 birds of 53 species.

The Gore Bay bird count also had an excellent showing with 41 species counted. Gore Bay birder count organizer Terry Land reported seeing 14 bald eagles in the area he and partner Nicole were responsible for searching with eight eagles spotted in one tree. Another highlight was a large flock of snow buntings estimated at over 600.