The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Atlantic Canada

The 122nd Christmas Bird Count season was a great one with its usual mix of wintry weather, fantastic birds, and great camaraderie.  It was also a welcome symbol of returning to “normal” for many birders – an opportunity to come together outside, celebrate nature, and reconnect with our communities after a challenging two years. A typical fall with plenty of winds from the west led to an array of vagrants and displaced migrants hanging on into winter, while the sudden onset of cold and snow in early December concentrated birds within some areas. All in all, there was plenty to see and talk about.

A total of 94 counts were completed in the Atlantic region this season: with 49 in New Brunswick, 34 in Nova Scotia, nine in Newfoundland & Labrador, and three in Prince Edward Island. This represents the highest number of counts recorded in the region – due in part to the fact that, for the first time, all the results were submitted to the Audubon database. Involvement was also up with ~2306 total participants, 1522 of which put in over 4000 hours in the field. The bird tally was down slightly from last season with 188 species recorded throughout the region (including a few count week observations) – but there were still many highlights, including several rare and lingering species.

A long-staying Pink-footed Goose was once again recorded in St. John’s (NL), placing this rare species on the list for the fifth season in a row. A lone Snow Goose was spotted in Yarmouth (NS) – the only other species of goose in the region besides the widespread Canada Goose. A record five Wood Ducks tallied in St. John’s (NL) reflects a seeming influx of this species in the province, while the 54 Tufted Duck tallied there was on par with last season. Although there were no other Tufted Ducks reported in the region this year, apparent hybrid Tufted Duck X scaup sp. at Cape Sable Island (NS) was an interesting record. A locally rare Ruddy Duck was at Chezzetook (NS), while another made a count week appearance at Shediac (NB). Just two Pied-billed Grebes were reported – one at Lunenburg (NS) and another at Renews (NL). Both the Pacific Loon and Common Gallinule seen on the Halifax-Dartmouth (NS) count were regionally rare.

Shorebird diversity was up compared to last season with a total of nine species recorded, mostly in NS.  The most notable reports were of a lingering Semipalmated Plover at Cape Sable Island and Lesser Yellowlegs in Broad Cove (NS). Surprisingly, only one Wilson’s Snipe was reported in the region, although three American Woodcocks were a little more notable. Purple Sandpipers were slightly below average with a total of 388 (278 of which were recorded in NL). Black-bellied Plover (14), Ruddy Turnstone (1), Sanderling (424), and Dunlin (15) rounded out the tally.

Willow Ptarmigan were recorded in three different circles in NL, including an impressive 20 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. A lone Rock Ptarmigan was spotted during the Bonne Bay (NL) count, no doubt atop the Long Range Mountains in that area. A total of 190 Wild Turkeys were recorded on seven counts in NB - the bulk from St. Stephens (79), St. Andrews (21), Hartland (50), and Mactaquac (12) which are all near the border with Maine. These birds represent the only established population in the region but do appear to be spreading ever so slightly. Unfortunately, the increasingly hard-to-find Gray Partridge on PEI did not make an appearance during counts this season.

Diurnal raptors are always a highlight, and this year was no exception. Turkey Vultures continue to increase in the Maritimes, with a remarkable 211 recorded across NS and 59 in neighbouring NB. Bald Eagles also continue to rebound in Atlantic Canada, with 1898 individuals reported across all four provinces. A regionally rare Red-shouldered Hawk was a highlight at Annapolis Royal (NS). A total of three Broad-winged Hawks were reported in Nova Scotia this season – down slightly from last year, but still notable at this time of year. A grand total of 24 Peregrine Falcons, 26 Merlins, and eight American Kestrels was also a good showing for the region.

Snowy Owl reports were up after several slow seasons, with a total of 30 recorded across NS, NB, and NL. Barred Owls appear to be increasing across the Maritimes with an impressive 42 reports. Surely, NL can expect its first record soon! Northern Saw-whet Owls were pretty much on par with 13 individuals, while the number of Great Horned (7) and Short-eared owls (6) were both down significantly from last winter. Two Long-eared Owls in NS round out the list of six species found this season.

Woodpeckers put it in a good showing this year including 30 Red-bellied Woodpeckers in NS and NB where they are regionally scarce, five Black-backed, and a lone American Three-toed Woodpecker which often goes undetected during the count period. Carolina Wrens, which have been increasing in the Maritimes in recent years, were down slightly from last year – with just one each in NS and NB. A total of eight Winter Wrens, one House Wren, and one Marsh Wren were also reported.

Rare and lingering warblers are often a “prize” of the season in Atlantic Canada. A total of ten species were recorded this year, down slightly from last. Yellow-rumped Warblers were surprisingly abundant in NS with a total of 141 reported, including a remarkable 81 at Cape Sable Island and 18 in Halifax-Dartmouth. Other more-or-less expected species included Pine Warbler (38) Orange-crowned Warbler (22), Common Yellowthroat (3), and Yellow-breasted Chat (3). Other warblers throughout the region included Palm (3), Cape May (2), Northern Parula (1), and Ovenbird (1). A Yellow-throated Warbler was recorded in Jemseg-Gagetown (NB), and others during count week at Moncton (NB) and West Hants (NS).

Other lingering birds of note in the region included five Great Blue Herons (NB & PEI), one Great Egret (NS), 23 American Coots (NB,NS & NL), three Eastern Phoebes (NB & NS), four Gray Catbirds (NB & NS), 25 Northern Mockingbirds (NB & NS), 18 Eastern Bluebirds (NB & NS), 20 Hermit Thrush (NB & NS), 75 Brown-headed Cowbirds (NS & PEI), 14 Baltimore Orioles (NB, NS & NL), and five Rusty Blackbirds (NB & NS). A total of 1151 Northern Cardinals were recorded across this region this season.

Notable birds in the region at any season included a Sabine’s Gull on Sable Island (NS) and a Little Gull at Pictou Harbour (NS). The most exceptional records were vagrants from western Canada including a Townsend’s Solitaire at Restigouche (NB), Western Tanager at Moncton (NB), and a Mountain Bluebird during count week at Glace Bay (NS). Tufted Titmouse was reported in three different count circles in NB, perhaps signalling a slight range expansion of this species that just barely makes it into Canada. Two Brown Thrashers were found during count week at Grand Manan (NB) and Broad Cove (NS).  A Scarlet Tanager was at Wolfville, while a slightly rarer Summer Tanager was at Pictou Harbour (NS). Other notables for the area included two Rose-breasted Grosbeak (NS), three Dickcissels (NS & NL), an Eastern Meadowlark (NS), and a Yellow-headed Blackbird (NS). The Harris’s Sparrow at Yarmouth (NS) was an excellent record for the province. Other locally uncommon sparrows were a Field Sparrow (NS) and two Lark Sparrows (NS & NL).

Overall, finch numbers returned to “normal” across the region this season, down considerably from last year’s big showing. Pine Grosbeak (719), Common Redpoll (1965), and Evening Grosbeak (1147) saw the most significant drop compared to last season’s irruption. That being noted, White-winged Crossbill (5118), Purple Finch (3193), and Pine Siskin (1082) reports were up slightly over the same time period. Interestingly, American Goldfinch (17,442) numbers were up ~50% over the past few seasons possibly reflecting a continued growth in the region. House Finch (109) reports in NB & NS were down slightly from last year, while Red Crossbill (203) remained about the same. A lone Hoary Redpoll was recorded at Happy Valley-Goose Bay (NL). House Sparrows (1732) remained relatively stable across all four provinces.