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99th Hamilton Christmas Bird Count Report

The 99th Hamilton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held on Thursday, December 26 in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Hamilton CBC count circle centres upon Dundurn Castle; it is bounded in the west by Christie Lake, in the east by Lake Ontario, in the north by Lake Medad, and in the south by Hamilton International Airport. It includes two Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs): West End of Lake Ontario (WELO) IBA, and Dundas Valley & Dundas Marsh IBA.

The weather on count day was cool and damp. It was overcast, with the thermometer ranging between 0°C and 3°C, humidity near 100%, and a very light and brief misting rain on a couple occasions. Light winds began from the east but shifted north by the end of the day.

Pileated Woodpecker, Cootes Paradise Sanctuary (photo: Rob Porter)

A record-setting one hundred and nine participants either set out to count in the field or watch birdfeeders, with twenty-two counters working alone and the rest forming a total thirty different groups. A total of 359.75 hours effort was put in by the participants (also a record high), with a resulting 97 different species observed, plus another 4 on the count week, giving a result of 101 species countable. This is only slightly below both the 10-year (103.8 species) and 25-year (102.3 species) averages.

A total of 37,165 individual birds were counted on the count day. This is 11,034 below the 10-year average and 25,598 below the 25-year average. It is only 802 above the lowest year in the last 40 years.

The lower count numbers can be partly explained by the lack of cover ice over the waterways. In years where ice is prevalent there tends to be much higher concentrations of waterfowl in our count circle.

Waterfowl numbers do not explain it all, however, as passerine species counted at 12,164 represent a new 25-year low. Raptor species counted at 139 individuals represents a low not seen since 1999, which had 92 counted.

Another “low” record set was the complete absence of the Green-winged Teal. This represents the first count day in the modern count (since the circle was standardized in 1955) that did not have this species found. It was also not found during count week, making this species a complete miss this year.

Carolina Wren, a record-setting species again. Photo taken at Golf Links Park, Ancaster (credit: Rob Porter)

A total of seven historical high species counts were set this year. In spite of the low waterfowl numbers, three of these records are of duck species.

The White-winged Scoters showed up in plentiful numbers, with a counted total of 1,604, almost 500 more than the previous record set in 2016.

Red-breasted Mergansers had a strong showing with 781 counted, nearly 200 over the historic record last set in 2009.

Barrow’s Goldeneye made its 7th appearance in the Hamilton count, but with just one individual counted ties with all the previous appearances. What makes this year different however, was the additional appearance of a hybrid Barrow’s x Common Goldeneye. One could say this sets a new record at 1.5 Barrow’s Goldeneyes, however it is unlikely the CBC database will accept this count, so will be left at one.

Another species with a similar pattern of appearances, Kumlien’s Gull, made a solo appearance, tying the record of one again. Currently this taxon is considered a sub-species of Iceland Gull however, so did not count towards the species count as it would have long ago.

Gray Catbirds were found in multiple locations, with a total count of 4 individuals. This species shows up once and a while, usually as lone individuals, but until this year were never more than 2 counted in the entire circle.

Common Raven set a record yet again, this year at 6 counted individuals. This species first appeared in 2003, and has only been missed once in the last 10 years of the count, making it a new regular.

Two perennial record-setters have shown no signs of slowing down.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have set another record at 115 counted. This species first appeared in the 1979 count, but didn’t truly begin to establish until the 2000s. Since 2001, it has not missed a year.

Carolina Wren have hit a new record of 122 counted, showing now in all parts of the circle. This species has appeared in the count nonstop since 1994. Prior to that it had always been something found in very small numbers every few years.

A lone Marsh Wren was found on count day near Eramosa Karst Conservation Area, representing the first one found on count day since 1982.

Also of note, the Winter Wren, while only matching a 10-year record of 25 counted, has appeared in far more locations than usual. Typically found in Hendrie Valley and Cootes in good numbers, those locations reported lower than usual numbers. Instead, the species this year appeared in small numbers fairly evenly across the circle.

Ten-year high count records were set with the following species: Redhead (284), Common Goldeneye (3,117), Common Merganser (2,060), Downy Woodpecker (248), Hairy Woodpecker (103), Northern Flicker (11), and Song Sparrow (46).

Conversely, ten-year lows were set with: American Black Duck (137), American Coot (8), and Red-tailed Hawk (89).

Twenty-five year lows were set for Black-capped Chickadee (928), and Sharp-shinned Hawk (2).

Other highlights of the count include: a lone Rusty Blackbird in Stoney Creek, an Eastern Towhee found on Artaban Road in count week, five Cackling Goose found in a quarry, a lone King Eider and a hybrid Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser was seen in Hamilton Harbour.

Thank you to all of our counters and those who contributed count week birds. We saw many new feeder watchers this year, and hope to continue adding more as we approach our hundredth count next year. A final report with a full list of all our counters will be in a future issue of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club journal, The Wood Duck.

The raw data:

 * = New highest record in count history (99 years)
 *10y = Highest count in last 10 years
 *25y = Highest count in last 25 years
 CW = Count Week species 

 Participants: *109
 Hours-effort: *359.75

 Count day species: 97
 Spuhs/slashes: 5
 Hybrids: 2
 Count week species: 4
 Total species: 101

 Species counts (in taxonomic order)

 Cackling Goose      5 
 Canada Goose      5,712 
 Mute Swan      77 
 Trumpeter Swan      106 
 Tundra Swan      8 
 Northern Shoveler      73 
 Gadwall      47 
 American Wigeon      1 
 Mallard      4,015 
 American Black Duck      137 
 Northern Pintail      1 
 Canvasback      209 
 *10y Redhead      284 
 Ring-necked Duck      71 
 Greater Scaup      1,119 
 Lesser Scaup      452 
 King Eider      1 
 Surf Scoter      28 
 * White-winged Scoter      1,604 
 Black Scoter      5 
 Long-tailed Duck      2,236 
 Bufflehead      316 
 *10y Common Goldeneye      3,117 
 * Barrow's Goldeneye      1 
 Barrow's x Common Goldeneye (hybrid) 1
 Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser (hybrid) 1
 Hooded Merganser      174 
 *10y Common Merganser      2,060 
 * Red-breasted Merganser      781 
 Ruddy Duck      291 
 Wild Turkey      22 
 Pied-billed Grebe      1 
 Horned Grebe      3 
 Red-necked Grebe      3 
 Rock Pigeon      1,297 
 Mourning Dove      889 
 American Coot      8 
 Ring-billed Gull      1,127 
 Herring Gull      568 
 Iceland Gull      1 
 * Iceland Gull (kumlieni)      1 
 Lesser Black-backed Gull      2 
 Glaucous Gull      1 
 Great Black-backed Gull      84 
 gull sp.      5 
 Red-throated Loon     CW 
 Common Loon      6 
 loon sp.      1 
 Double-crested Cormorant      91 
 Great Blue Heron      4 
 Black-crowned Night-Heron      1 
 Northern Harrier     CW 
 Sharp-shinned Hawk      2 
 Cooper's Hawk      19 
 Bald Eagle      5 
 Red-tailed Hawk      89 
 hawk sp.      3 
 Eastern Screech-Owl      8 
 Great Horned Owl      3 
 Belted Kingfisher      7 
 * Red-bellied Woodpecker      115 
 *10y Downy Woodpecker      248 
 *10y Hairy Woodpecker      103 
 Downy/Hairy Woodpecker      2 
 Pileated Woodpecker      10 
 *10y Northern Flicker      11 
 American Kestrel      4 
 Merlin      3 
 Peregrine Falcon      3 
 Northern Shrike      4 
 Blue Jay      314 
 American Crow      556 
 * Common Raven      6 
 Black-capped Chickadee      928 
 Tufted Titmouse      4 
 Red-breasted Nuthatch      14 
 White-breasted Nuthatch      203 
 Brown Creeper      17 
 Winter Wren      25 
 *25y Marsh Wren      1 
 * Carolina Wren      122 
 Golden-crowned Kinglet      23 
 Eastern Bluebird      24 
 Hermit Thrush      3 
 American Robin      448 
 * Gray Catbird      4 
 Northern Mockingbird      15 
 European Starling      2,631 
 Cedar Waxwing      333 
 House Finch      314 
 Common Redpoll      2 
 Pine Siskin      2 
 American Goldfinch      645 
 Snow Bunting      1 
 Chipping Sparrow      2 
 American Tree Sparrow      113 
 Dark-eyed Junco      724 
 White-crowned Sparrow      5 
 White-throated Sparrow      90 
 Song Sparrow      46 
 Swamp Sparrow      4 
 Eastern Towhee     CW 
 Brown-headed Cowbird      1 
 Rusty Blackbird      1 
 Common Grackle     CW 
 blackbird sp.      2 
 Yellow-rumped Warbler      2 
 Northern Cardinal      438 
 House Sparrow      1,415  

 TOTAL COUNTED      37,165

Save the date: on December 7, 2020 we’ll be celebrating the 100th Hamilton Christmas Bird Count during the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club general meeting. All are welcomed. See https://hamiltonnature.org/ closer to the date for details.

Rob Porter
Compiler, 99th Hamilton Christmas Bird Count

Great Blue Heron, often found during the count hunting for rodents. Photo taken at McMaster University (credit: Rob Porter)