Annual Christmas bird count numbers lowest since 1985

Over 450 blue jays were spotted during the Christmas bird count. photo by John Savage

by Chris Bell

MANITOULIN – Two thousand one hundred and seventy-one  birds of 43 species were counted on the 46th annual Mindemoya Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 14. Bird numbers were down to 1985 levels.

Thirty-two feeder watchers, including five new volunteers, took part. There were 24 birders, including four new recruits, in nine areas within the established 24 kilometre diameter circle. 

Bird of the day was a gray catbird that had been coming for several weeks to the yard of Mark and Judy Olacke on Monument Road. They did see it on the count. 

Interesting birds this year included three snowy owls (always very popular with visiting birders), a great black-backed gull on Lake Manitou, a kingfisher on Hare’s Creek and a robin near Spring Bay. Waterfowl that were on the point of leaving for the winter included three Canada geese near Lake Mindemoya, one bufflehead in Providence Bay and a single red-necked grebe in West Bay.

Most numerous birds this year were the 437 blue jays, 360 black-capped chickadees and 170 mourning doves.

The count was hampered by an all-morning fog, which reduced visibility on land and over the lakes. Otherwise it was a nice mild day with about 12 centimetres of snow on the ground, and the walking was good. However, Lake Huron water levels are very high and the shoreline walk was cut short.

Prior to the count I heard several comments about very low bird numbers this month and this was borne out on the count. The reasons are unknown, but winter bird populations do fluctuate from year to year.

Ducks were in small numbers despite the big waters being free of ice. The big flocks had departed earlier. 

The bald eagles count of nine was the lowest for several years but we may have missed some in the fog.

This year a single grackle and high numbers of wintering tree sparrows and juncos were reported but there were no other blackbirds or any unusual sparrows. 

Despite a good fruit and seed crop, we did not see any bohemian waxwings, pine grosbeaks or evening grosbeaks. The winter finches have not arrived yet. With only three common redpolls, 17 purple finches and no pine siskins the winter finch population is very low. We usually get big numbers of one or more of the finches but so far this year we have to make do with American goldfinches—60 on the count.

The 32 feeder watchers reported 25 species of birds. While most feeder watchers reported very few birds, four found 12 or more species. Rose and John Diebolt with 12 species and six tree sparrows win the 2019 reward for the most successful feeder.

The Mindemoya Christmas Bird Count is a project of the National Audubon Society and the Manitoulin Nature Club. 

Here is the full list of birds counted: three Canada geese, 19 black ducks, 78 mallards, 14 long-tailed ducks, one bufflehead, 20 common goldeneye, 39 common mergansers, 13 ring-necked pheasants, 15 ruffed grouse, one red-necked grebe, 26 rock pigeons, 170 mourning doves, 68 herring gulls, one great black-backed gull, nine bald eagles, one red-tailed hawk, three rough-legged hawks, three snowy owls, one belted kingfisher, 24 red-bellied woodpeckers, 33 downy woodpeckers, 27 hairy woodpeckers, 18 pileated woodpeckers, three northern shrikes, 457 blue jays, 147 American crows, 95 common ravens, 360 black-capped chickadees, 38 red-breasted nuthatches, 30 white-breasted nuthatches, four golden-crowned kinglets, one American robin, one gray catbird, 138 European starlings, 17 purple finches, three common redpolls, 90 American goldfinches, 114 snow buntings, 46 American tree sparrows, one white-crowned sparrows, 29 dark-eyed juncos, one common grackle, eight northern cardinals, two house sparrows for a total of 2,171 birds of 43 species.