Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 St. Catharines Christmas Bird Count

It's that time of year again. Between December 14 and January 5, nature clubs and birders across North America are participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count held by the National Audubon Society. The first of three counts for Jean and I occurred on Sunday December 19. The St. Catharines CBC has been going on for 56 years and this was our third year of assisting John Black, co-editor of Niagara Birds, with his assigned section of the St. Catharines birding circle (centered just west of St. Catharines).

At 8:00 AM, Jean, John and I piled into Denys' van and the four of us started our count of birds we found while driving along the rural roads of West Lincoln. There were a few intrepid volunteers that started at 5:00 AM to prowl for owls. One group managed to find 11 Screech Owls.

It was slightly below freezing with a fine snow falling and luckily, there was no wind. Initially, it did not look promising. The first feeders observed contained no seed and the woodlot that contained kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees and woodpecker species last year appeared devoid of activity. We spotted 2 Red-tailed Hawks perched in a distant tree but it was just too quiet for my liking.

Eventually, I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker but no other species were seen until we returned to the main road.

John searching the brush near the main road.

The morning was starting to get better. Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows and Downy Woodpecker were ticked before we climbed back into the van.

We continued heading north and found a farm yard with productive feeders. The House Finches, American Goldfinches, Cardinals, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers absent in Boyle were all seen in Rosedene. As we continued to observe the activity at the feeders and in the nearby brush, a large flock of birds flew overhead. As I looked at the flock it seemed so surreal. Their buffy and white bodies stood out against the grey sky and their calls were the only sound I could hear. "Snow Buntings!" called out John and Denys as I continued to look at #207 for 2010. The flock contained an estimated 200 Snow Buntings but we could not spot a longspur amongst them. Later in the day, we saw a second flock of approximately 100 buntings. Other groups observed large flocks as well and after discussing at the round up, it may be a record number for the St. Catharines count.

Before leaving the farm, Jean pointed out one more bird, a Peacock. I caught a glimpse of the uncountable bird before it disappeared behind a barn.

As we approached the northern boundary of our section, Jean spotted 2 Wild Turkeys perched in a tree. On the ground below, Denys found an additional 6 turkeys.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a Swamp Sparrow.

And the sleeping muskrats could care less that a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice would soon be here.

Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels were observed in the morning and aside from a Cooper's Hawk at the start of our count we did not find any other raptors until after lunch. What we observed was dramatic. We spotted a large darkly coloured raptor standing in a field that we identified as a Rough-legged Hawk. Soon after identifying the welcomed addition to the section list, we observed a large female Red-tailed Hawk swoop in and land in front of the Rough-legged Hawk. A stand down ensued. A second Red-tailed Hawk joined the fracas but the Rough-legged Hawk would not be bullied. It stood its ground and the Red-tailed Hawks left to hunt elsewhere.

Other notable species observed in the afternoon included, American Robins (6), Horned Lark (4), Brown Creeper (1), White-breasted Nuthatch (3), Red-breasted Nuthatch (2) and at our last stop, a Tufted Titmouse visiting feeders we did not see last year. The feeders in the back yard of a residence were filled with birds hungry for seed. The homeowner was friendly and allowed us closer views of the feeders. This is a spot we will surely mark for visiting next year.

At the end of the day, we observed 29 species while covering 75+ kilometres of rural roads in our section. The winter list now stands at 41 species and we added 1 species to our year list. The next count for Jean and I will be the Niagara Falls (ON) CBC. Ron Pittaway has predicted an irruption year for Common Redpolls. The small finches were recently observed in Toronto. With a bit of luck, maybe we will spot one or two at some feeders in NOTL or even better, in our backyard from the comfort of the dining room.


  1. Heard there was a Gray Jay on the St. Catharines count.
    I finally saw a Redpoll today!

  2. The final results for the St. Kitts CBC should be posted soon. I attended the round up after the count and Gray Jay was not mentioned. The group that observed the Gray Jay was most likely not at the round up. No Redpolls today but the Eastern Towhee at some feeders was quite the Christmas treat.