After so many years of experiencing the lead-up to the Christmas Count season with its wonderful anticipation of the collective discoveries, the oddities and lingering species that may have erred in their migration planning, it never fails to impress me with all the effort and the resulting information that is gathered through this tradition.
The Fall season in the Atlantic is often characterized by strong wind events from the west and south that cause a bevy of unfortunately displaced birds. As is normal, early Fall 2018 brought many vagrants and wrong-headed birds to the region with many staying on into late November. Unusual though, was the surprising and extreme frigid, minus double digit, Celsius temperatures with the associated wind-chill that penetrated to the skin regardless of the quantity or quality of layered clothing. Prior to these abnormally cold conditions, vireo and warbler varieties were many but after the comparatively milder temperatures returned for count period, there was a drastic reduction in daily bird species. Despite the obvious dearth in late fall “hangers on” there were hopes that winter finches, northern owls and maybe some closer-to-shore alcids may be adequate to generate birder-enthusiasm and make up for the scarcity of birds in the field.
To summarize the effort, a total of 69 counts took place with Nova Scotia submitting 33, New Brunswick, 26, Newfoundland and Labrador seven, and Prince Edward Island three, but unfortunately Saint Pierre and Miquelon was absent from this year’s summary. With the four provinces combined, the species total for the period was just 172 including three additional count week species. Although the number of counts was the same as last year, more people took part than last year which is about average with a total of just about 1900 people, 1250 of those contributing almost 3850 hours in the field. Two counts, tallied 100 or more species on count day, Halifax-Dartmouth with 122 and Yarmouth, NS with 100 species.
Always interesting are the highlights for the region. Almost a regular occurrence now is Pink-footed Goose in late Fall somewhere in the Atlantic and this time, one was found with the hundreds of Canada Geese during count day at Yarmouth, NS. Another relatively rare goose was a Cackling Goose at Wolfville, NS and the only Brant numbered 34 at Grand Manan NB. Apart from the now normal contingent of Tufted Ducks in St. John’s NL, only one other bird was found at Glace Bay, NS. The region only logged a single King Eider at Halifax-Dartmouth during the period.
Gray Partridge, after being blanked out last year for the entire region, was sighted at Prince Edward Island National Park where 31 birds were found. These birds are now considered extirpated from Nova Scotia leaving the last small population in the region on Prince Edward Island. Wild Turkey continues to so far be restricted to New Brunswick. St. Stephen, which borders Maine, US has no doubt adopted a small population with 152 being recorded there. Minto, in central NB, registered 27 during the count there which indicates these most certainly are not there through a southern border crossing.
Of the diurnal raptors, impressive was an immature Red-shouldered Hawk that was sighted during the Yarmouth CBC. This bird was seen with an adult bird prior to and after the CBC so becomes a new addition to the over-wintering record for this species in this area. Broad-winged Hawks are also a quite uncommon species in winter here but both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick recorded individuals for the period. A count week Gyrfalcon was observed at Cape Sable Island, NS
Although there were no Northern Hawk or Boreal owls, as may have been expected by some with that early freeze-up and frigid weather, just a few Snowy Owls were noted in NS, NB and PE, and records for all other resident owls were tallied. Barred Owls were commonly seen on wires next to roadways hunting the ditches at any time of day no doubt as a result of impenetrable ice in the forests and on the fields making rodent capture much more difficult.
In an average year, alcid species range from the most common being Razorbill and Black Guillemot in late fall and early winter. Dovekie and Thick-billed Murre tend to be less common than those but occasionally so numerous only estimates are possible. Since Common Murres generally migrate sooner along our coasts than Thick-billed, they are much less commonly found during Christmas Count period having already moved southward. This year was an exception though when Common Murres outnumbered Thick-billed but about 2:1 in NS and NB, being found in calm inlets and bays all along the coasts.
The woodpeckers were all represented in average numbers with few surprises except that it is not every year American Three-toed Woodpeckers make it to the list, but this year two birds were found at Miscou Island, NB and a single bird at Bonne Bay, NL.
In recent years it has been a regular occurrence for Carolina Wren to over-winter in the region, most often in New Brunswick. This year was particularly unique with a total of seven birds found during the period on five CBCs. A bit early to predict possibly but there may be some northeast movement of their more normal range.
On a typical year, especially over the more recent decades, Atlantic Canada has been supporting more and more smaller passerines in winter months. These birds end up caught here due mostly to wind and weather issues earlier in the Fall. A total for the region of just seven warbler species were found with the balance being, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Yellowthroat, Pine, Palm, and I’ll include Yellow-breasted Chat among the warblers. No lingering vireos were found as is normally the case.
Sparrows included uncommon species such as Clay-colored at Riverside-Albert NS and at Whitepoint, NS, but possibly the rarest bird for the region’s CBCs was a Harris’s Sparrow showed itself during the Halifax-Dartmouth, NS CBC. Conveniently it was accompanied by a lovely adult White-crowned Sparrow to make it a good birding day for those participants.
From all reports, it was a much better winter finch year than more recent years. Prince Edward Island having the most of all finch species despite just three count areas reporting from there. Totals for the regions were: Pine Grosbeak, (1264), Evening Grosbeak (3900), Pine Siskin (3200), Common Redpoll (2500), and small numbers of Red and White-winged crossbills. House Sparrow continues its precarious existence in the region with just 1333 birds counted. A single bird was found in Prince Edward Island, just over 100 in New Brunswick with the rest fairly evenly split between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.