This Christmas Count season saw a remarkable—and very welcome—change from a year ago, with tremendously better field conditions for counting birds for those in the field. Last year's bitter cold, followed by rain, then frigid temperatures again were replaced by quite comfortable conditions both leading up to and during count period. Only those CBCs done in January experienced the true wrath of Atlantic weather as it began to deteriorate into what was to become a very harsh winter.
The number of active Christmas Bird Counts in the Atlantic region continues its climb with 75 submitting results, an increase of seven over last year and surpassing any other year in history. The count totals were St. Pierre et Miquelon with one, Prince Edward Island three, Newfoundland and Labrador 10, New Brunswick 27 and Nova Scotia 34. New submissions came in from Caraquet and Paquetville in New Brunswick and Annapolis Royal and Church Point in Nova Scotia. It was terrific to see renewed submissions from Shediac, NB and Cape St. Mary’s, NL.
In total there were an astounding 194 species tallied in the region plus an additional three identifiable subspecies, those being Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Savannah (Ipswich) Sparrow and Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler.
All expected waterfowl were accounted for including single records of Blue-winged Teal, (NS) and King Eider, (NL). The hotspot for Tufted Duck continues to be St. John's, NL, but Nova Scotia had a record eight in Glace Bay, NS, which shows promise for a wider future distribution.
For the first time in many years, the region was shut out of any mention of Gray Partridge. Nova Scotia's few remaining individuals have not been seen for almost two years and no member of its Prince Edward Island's population was found this season. There appears to be no further spread into New Brunswick of Wild Turkey with just the single flock of 36 individuals near St. Stephen. Aside from two American Bitterns and two dozen Great Blue Herons, the region seems to expect a Great Egret to occur now and this season three were found: two at Cape Race, NL, and one at St. Peter's, NS. Turkey Vultures continue to increase in NS with a total of 112 seen on eight different CBCs, and in NB Quispamsis-Hampton tallied 17 and Grand Manan Island had a single.
Extraordinary and incredible were words often used to describe some of the highlights this season. It began with a first ever record of an eye-popping Long-billed Curlew at Cape Tormentine, NB, truly one of those special discoveries that will not be forgotten by those who travelled to see it. Other shorebirds were a bit more predictable: Ruddy Turnstone, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, good numbers of Purple Sandpipers, Wilson's Snipe, and American Woodcock were all found but the vision of 40 phalaropes of uncertain identity was a surprise to well-seasoned observers near St. Peter's, NS.
Snowy Owls, as predicted, moved into the Atlantic in a rebound from last year's huge numbers which resulted in a third fewer than last year. St. Pierre et Miquelon was the clear winner playing host to 17 of the region's total of 44.
Three flycatcher species were discovered in Nova Scotia. An Ash-throated Flycatcher at Halifax-Dartmouth was a first regional CBC record for the species, a Dusky Flycatcher at Wolfville was the second regional CBC report. The latter bird was in loose company with an Eastern Phoebe. Finally, a flycatcher found at White Point, NS could not be conclusively identified to species.
A single Blue-gray Gnatcatcher survived until at least count day at East Point, PEI. Warblers put on a real show across the region, with a shocking 13 species seen! A total of 47 Orange-crowned (NS, NB, NL), a single Cape May (NS), 174 Yellow-rumps (including a single Audubon's in NS) (NS,NB,PE), a single Black-throated Green (NS), three Yellow-throated (NS), 21 Pine (NS,NB, PE,NL), one Prairie (NS) four Palm, (NS,NL), a Black-and-white (NS), an Ovenbird, (NS), six Common Yellowthroat, (NS,NB), a Wilson's (NS), and six Yellow-breasted Chat (NS, NL). Phenomenal!
A Western Tanager was discovered at a feeder at Kingston, and specialty sparrows included Clay-colored Sparrow (NS, NB, NL), Field Sparrow (NB), Lark Sparrow (NS, NB), and Grasshopper Sparrow (NS). A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was at St. John's, NL and a total of five Dickcissels were counted in NS and NL.
All winter finches were accounted for and in respectable numbers. but with a relatively open and less winter-like conditions in many places, these birds were found in groups near headlands and forests instead of relying on feeders. Cone and seed crops in the East tripled last year's numbers of this group with the exception of both crossbill types which continue to be elusive despite food availability.
Despite an increase in effort (7 more CBCs), the number of House Sparrows in the region (1913) was almost exactly the same as last year, evidence of their diminishing numbers. As an example, Nova Scotia's total of 1120 on 34 CBCs was the lowest since the 1950s. Although the cause for this is unclear, we are witnessing a rather rapid departure of this species from the region.