The 119th CBC in Ontario

We had 122 counts in Ontario again this year, the same as last year’s total and just two shy of the record 124 in year 117. The total number of counts conducted was likely a record but a few counts (Peel-Halton and Dunrobin-Breckenridge) failed to submit any data. A big welcome to our two new counts, both in the north:  Iroquois Falls and Smooth Rock Falls.

The weather always plays a big role for counts, and this year was pretty average; fall lingered with the exception of a few wintery blasts, but was mostly unremarkable. There was a pretty significant blast of cold, wintery weather in late November/early December that gave way to milder weather well before count period began. As a result, many counts reported significant open water but few waterbirds as those waterbirds had been pushed out in the weeks prior. Unlike the last couple of years, snow cover was fairly reduced, particularly in the south. This made for excellent walking conditions, but lacked the concentrating effect heavy snow sometimes can have. As a result, many counters reported spending long stretches with very little bird activity.

It wasn’t just people’s impressions; count day weather was indeed quite pleasant, with an average low of -5 and high of +1 degrees Celsius; almost ten degrees warmer than last year’s averages of -16.9 and -10.3. Thirty counts reported now snow whatsoever, in stark contrast from last year when no count did. Meaford was this year’s hot spot with a high of 12 degrees Celsius, while 74 other counts cracked zero on count day (again, what a difference from last year when only five counts made that mark). Kirkland Lake just beat out Kapuskasing for the coldest count honors, with a starting temperature of -25, rising to -20. This was the only count that did not get warmer than -20 this year. Only 36 counts (down from 89 counts last year) reported 15 centimetres (6 inches) or more of snow, with Kirkland Lake reporting the maximum depth at 50 cm. In general, heavy snow cover was limited to the areas from about Algonquin Park north.

There were a record 3707 observers in the field this year, up more than 300 from last year.  The 1054 feeder counters wasn’t quite a record, but still quite impressive. All those observers put in an impressive (and also record-setting) 8490 party hours, almost 1000 more than last year. Part of the rise in party hours is certainly tied to the increase in observers, but the good walking conditions may have been partly to credit. Observers logged an impressive 75,827 km (47,117 miles) – up about 7000 km and equal to about twice around the earth!! Ottawa-Gatineau continued its strangle-hold for most observers with 145 while Kingston took top honors for feeder counters with 75.

A total of 175 species were reported from all counts, up nine from last year, and just below the average from the past five years (but well below the record of 190 from year 113). An additional three species (Boreal Owl, Nashville Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole) were reported during count week but not on count day.

Long Point held on for highest species count with a whopping 117, with Blenheim (114) hot on their heels. Those two counts were in a class of their own this year though with no others reporting triple digits. Hamilton (97), St. Clair N.W.A. (93), and Toronto (91) rounded out the top five. Ottawa-Gatineau (75) led the way for inland counts, followed by London (73) and Cambridge (70) also cracking 70 species. As usual, Thunder Bay, with 41 species this year, had the highest total amongst northern Ontario counts. Long Point also led the way for provincial highs, with 16, followed by Hamilton (15) and Blenheim (13).

A total of 1,193,947 individual birds were counted, about 100,000 lower than the five-year average – mostly driven by abundant waterbirds. The total count was up about 80,000 from last year’s relative low count. The top five species this year were American Crow (186,620), Canada Goose (174,062), European Starling (103,650), Mallard (91,226), and Black-capped Chickadee (60,871) – pretty much the same species and order as usual.

It wasn’t quite as extreme as last year, but waterbirds featured prominently in the list of below-average counts. American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Bonaparte's Gull, Little Gull, Wilson's Snipe, Killdeer, Northern Pintail, American Woodcock, Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and King Eider were all recorded in numbers of 50% or less of their 20-year average.  There weren’t many big misses this year – the only one that really stands out was Gray Partridge (recorded on 67 of the last 70 counts, but missed now for the third year in a row), but that’s a species that is definitely getting very hard to find in Ontario and as an exotic, many people might be just fine with it disappearing from the province.

There was an incredible list of 17 species that set new highs for the province; most are of species showing long-term increasing trends. These included Red-throated Loon (669 vs 103), Snow Goose (3051 vs 1966), Eastern Phoebe (15 vs 12), Barred Owl (158 vs 93), Tundra Swan (26,544 vs 17,168), Golden Eagle (30 vs 28), Mute Swan (3155 vs 2590), Double-crested Cormorant (415 vs 336), Bald Eagle (1631 vs 1352), Merlin (102 vs 97), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1789 vs 1757), Black-and-white Warbler (2, vs 1), Peregrine Falcon (50 vs 48), Eastern Bluebird (1051 vs 926), Pileated Woodpecker (952 vs 795), White-breasted Nuthatch (8371 vs 7170), and Rock Pigeon (58,124 vs 56,539).

As far as winter finches go, count year 119 was an average to below-average year: Pine Grosbeak (4276 vs 20-year average of 4150), Common Redpoll (15,402 vs 12,245), and Pine Siskin (2868 vs 3133) were all pretty close to average. Purple Finch (260 vs 1105), Red Crossbill (87 vs 133), and White-winged Crossbill (36 vs 2327) were all virtually absent from the province. Evening Grosbeak was the one exception with the 4698 count well above the 20-year average of 2926 and the highest since count year 106. Irruptive owls were scarce again this year, but Snowy Owls had another big year (this really seems to be quickly becoming the normal) with 250 individuals tallied (fourth highest ever, all four counts in the past six years). Barred Owls also staged a big irruption south, with a record 158 tallied, 65 more than the previous record.

There are always some exciting finds on CBCs and this year was no exception, with lingering species the theme as usual. A very impressive three new species were recorded on an Ontario count this year. The Western Kingbird at Long Point was probably the most unexpected, but Bobolink on St. Thomas was also a good find. The Fish Crow on Hamilton was a bit more expected than the other two, but still one for the record books. Some of the other highlights were a hummingbird (unfortunately not identified to species, but undoubtedly something good!) on Minden, Eurasian Collared-Dove (Hamilton), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Wallaceburg), Black-and-white Warbler (Toronto), Cape May Warbler (St. Catharines), and Northern Waterthrush (Blenheim).

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 120-it’s just around the corner!