We had 122 counts in Ontario in the 118th Season, down two from the record 124 of last year; the only changes were misses from Bon Echo and Ear Falls.
As is usual for Ontario, the weather leading up to count day plays a big role and this year was no different. Unlike the last several years, most of the province experienced temperatures at or below normal for much of November and December. As a result, the CBC period resembled years gone by and many waterbirds had cleared out well before counts began. On the positive side, like last year with its timely snows, it appears the snow concentrated many landbirds which made for some high counts. As it turned out, November and December saw the most wintery weather most of the province got all winter as it warmed up in January after the count period.
The impact of the wintery weather made itself apparent on many counts, with an average low of -16.9 and high of just -10.3 degrees Celsius; well down from last year’s temperatures of -9.1 and -3.6 degrees Celsius, which were themselves both about 4 degrees colder than the year prior. In addition, every count reported snow on the ground compared to six in year 117, with no snow and nearly half of all counts with no snow in year 116! Only two counts reported completely open still water and 97 counts reported completely frozen still compared to 74 last year and just eleven in year 116. The Sandbanks count was the warmest, at 6 degrees Celsius, while only four other counts cracked above 0 degrees Celsius on count day versus 30 last year and 52 in year 116! On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kapuskasing was the coldest, with a starting temperature of just -37, rising to only -25 degrees Celsius – seven other counts didn’t climb out of the minus twenties – that’s dedication! With an average max snow depth of 28 centimetres (like last year but up considerably from the 12 and 6 of count years 115 and 116, respectively), walking conditions were tough. Eighty-nine counts (versus 88 last year and 19 in year 116) reported 15 centimetres (6 inches) or more of snow, with Moonbeam and Meaford both reporting 91 cm.
There were at least 3394 observers in the field this year, up about 60 from last year and only about 70 less than the record high. With the 1082 feeder counters, the total number of observers was a record 4476. Ottawa-Gatineau held on to top honours with the highest number of field observers (133). All those observers put in an impressive 7663 party hours, down about 500 from last year, and 68,072 party km (42,298 miles), down about 4000 from last year.
A total of 166 species were reported from all counts, down eight from last year, and the lowest in the past six years (also well below the average of 182 from the previous five years). An additional four species (Pomarine Jaeger, Boreal Owl, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Nashville Warbler) were reported during count week but not on count day. Despite the lower total species for the province, many counts were at or near their average from the previous few years although a few took a big hit with a lack of waterbirds. Some of the hardest hit were St. Clair N.W.A. (down 22 from last year), Sandbanks (20), Gananoque (19), and West Elgin (18). Conversely, the biggest gains came from Kincardine (up 28 from last year’s blizzard), Westport (18), Rideau Ferry (17), and Prince Edward Point (16).
Long Point again led for highest species count with 105, followed by Hamilton at 100 as the only other count to crack triple digits in the province. Point Pelee, Blenheim, Cedar Creek, Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Woodhouse Township were the only other counts to crack 90. Barrie (76 species) led the way for inland counts, followed by Cambridge (72), London (72), Kitchener (71), and Woodstock (70) all cracking 70. As usual, Thunder Bay, with only 36 species this year, had the highest total amongst northern Ontario counts.
A total of 1,112,387 individual birds were counted, down over 150,000 from last year and the lowest in the past four years. The top five species this year were American Crow (206,392), Canada Goose (129,403), European Starling (101,199), Mallard (54,551), and Dark-eyed Junco (52,339), the latter of which displaced Black-capped Chickadee for fifth spot on the list.
One of the biggest stories of the 118th count was the lack of waterbirds, almost every species was down from the last few years and 27 species were recorded at counts of less than 50% of their twenty-year average: Snow Goose, Tundra Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, American Coot, American Woodcock, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull.
There was a very impressive list of eight species that set new highs for the province; most are of species showing long-term increasing trends and this year’s record simply broke the record set last year. These included Sharp-tailed Grouse (192 vs. previous high of 137), Golden Eagle (28 vs last year’s 22), Bald Eagle (1352 vs last year’s 1319), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1757 vs last year’s 1566), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (47 vs last year’s 28), Blue Jay (27,849 vs 26,467 set in year 101), Red-breasted Nuthatch (4805 vs 4800 set in year 109), and Dark-eyed Junco (52,339 vs last year’s 45,325).
Other than waterbirds, there were a few long-term lows this year (thankfully, not too many!). These including American Kestrel (171), the lowest count since 1966/67; Northern Mockingbird (92), the lowest count since 1985/86; Bohemian Waxwing (697), the third lowest count since 1994/95; and Evening Grosbeak (476), the lowest since 1962/63. Big misses were pretty much all waterbirds or lingering species: Killdeer: first miss since 1995/96, Little Gull: first miss since 1981/82, Common Yellowthroat: first miss since 2005/6 and only the second miss since 1964/65, and Gray Partridge: second miss in a row but only the third since 1948/49. Two other species were also missed for the second year in a row: House Wren (previously not missed since 2000/01) and Purple Sandpiper (previously not missed since 2007/08).
As far as winter finches go, count year 118 was a below-average year for most species: Pine Grosbeak (2715 vs 20-year average of 4419), Purple Finch (798 vs 1103), White-winged Crossbill (581 vs 2319), Common Redpoll (2846 vs 14,200), Hoary Redpoll (25 vs 59). Pine Siskin was pretty much right on average with 2958 (vs 3124) while Red Crossbill was the lone bright spot with 475 (vs 121) thanks to a small flight of mostly small-billed “Type 3’s”. Irruptive owls were also similarly down: Northern Hawk Owl (1), Great Gray Owl (3), Long-eared Owl (23), Boreal Owl (cw only), and Northern Saw-whet Owl (6) all counted at less than half the 20-year average. Snowy Owls, on the other hand staged another remarkable influx with 270 individuals reported from 53 counts marking the third time ever more than 50 counts recorded the species or more than 200 individuals were tallied (both stats all in the past five years!).
No matter what happens there are always some very interesting finds and this year was no different. The undisputed highlight was a first Ontario CBC record Townsend’s Warbler on the Blenheim count; this bird was present since November and was enjoyed by literally hundreds of Ontario birders during its stay. Other great finds were the second Ontario CBC record of Western Meadowlark on the Eagle River count, the third Ontario CBC record of Tufted Duck on Peel-Halton, third Ontario CBC record (and third in the past four years!) of Eurasian Tree Sparrow on Wawa, and the ninth Ontario CBC record of Mountain Bluebird on the Prince Edward count.
All in all, it was another excellent CBC season here in Ontario with highs, lows, and everything in between. Here’s to all the hard work the huge team of volunteers put in to making the count a success and for another good year in count year 119-it’s just around the corner!