Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Bird Count 2016

It is mid-December which means another one of my favourite citizen science projects is underway, the Christmas Bird Count!

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) began in 1900 (116 years ago!) and is considered to be North America's longest running citizen science program.  This count takes place one day between December 14th until January 5th.  These counts are usually organized by a local group (sometimes by a birding club or a local naturalist club), and occur within a 24-km circle that stays the same throughout the years.  This is a great way for experienced birders to share their passion and knowledge with others and a great opportunity for young or inexperienced birders to learn from some of the best in the community!

If you are interested in participating in a Christmas Bird Count, there is still time! Take a look at this page and find one located near you: CBC Locations and Dates

The last two days, I took a bit of a break and volunteered with CBC's located in Burk's Falls and Parry Sound.  With the recent dumping of snow (and fair bit of snow during the count days) and the very cold temperatures (-25!), it wasn't too unexpected that it was fairly quiet bird wise.

Friday consisted of the count at Burk's Falls. Mike and I were paired with Martin Parker, a past resident of the area and awesome naturalist whom we got to know while we were members of the Peterborough Field Naturalist Club.  He is incredibly knowledgeable and full of amusing and interesting stories, so the day was full of laughing and learning, even though we were relatively short on birds.

Unfortunately, many of our birds were heard or in front lawns at feeders, so I either wasn't able to take photos or just felt way too awkward too! We were already staring at front lawns with binoculars, so adding a camera would just up the creep factor right?  Residents within our count circle were sent emails/letters about the count happening, and also an article in the local newspaper was written to inform  everyone of us "creepy birders"!

Our first bird of the day was none other than the Black-capped Chickadee and then Common Raven.  Mike was the first to spot something relatively exciting and unexpected, a group of Wild Turkey feeding on the road!

When we weren't walking or stopping along roads to listen, we stopped in at a few houses that were watching their feeders for us.  People along the route were so friendly and welcomed us into their homes to warm up a little bit and watch their feeders.  We were so jealous to hear that we missed a Goshawk at one of the houses by just a day!  Towards the end of the count, we finally came across our last bird almost by accident.  A car was stopped at an intersection and we couldn't figure out why it was there for so long, eventually we realized that they had been waiting for a school bus to come by.  Had they not been stopped, we likely wouldn't have stopped long enough to spot the last bird of the day....and a lifer for me.  It was our new National bird...the Gray Jay!  It was from quite a distance, but it was a fantastic ending to the day.

The next we got into the car again and ventured out for the Parry Sound CBC. The area that we surveyed was in a location that neither of us had been before, so it was wonderful to get to see a new part of the township.  The first bird of the day came first thing in the morning as a father and son spotted a Barred Owl flying on their way into our meeting spot!  Our first bird was a bit of a surprise...a Belted Kingfisher! It was spotted in one of the only areas of open water that we came across (pictured below).  In the same area we were delighted to see a group of four otters diving and "playing" in the open water!

All of the other birds along our route were common for this time of year and included: Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, and Hairy Woodpecker.

 After our route was completed we took a bit of a side-trip to the local dump.  Unfortunately it was closed, however we were able to spot a group of Ravens, Ring-billed Gulls, a starling, and a young Bald Eagle!

Nearby, we also came across a group of approximately 12 Wild Turkey.  Two toms (adult males) were walking along a frozen pond, while an even larger group of females were across the street perched in trees.  If you have never seen turkey's in a tree's a pretty odd sight!  What was even odder was watching them try and manoeuvre themselves in the deep snow. They were sinking and tumbling, flopping over this way and that, it was quite entertaining to watch!

It was an awesome CBC this year, and a first for us in this area.  We were so lucky to have gotten the chance to take some time off, check out new areas, and even learn about some new birding hot spots we will be sure to check out in the future!

Good luck to anyone who still has a CBC to complete this year and if anyone is thinking about participating this year or next....I highly recommend it!