Hamilton Fall Bird Count 2009
by Bill Lamond
This was the 36th consecutive year of the Hamilton Fall Bird Count (HFBC). The count for 2009 has to be considered a better than average count for several reasons. Firstly, the species total of 140 was better than the 36 year count average of 130 and the “last 10-year average” of 135. Secondly, the weather was much better than usual. I had several people comment on this aspect of the count, especially birders on Lake Ontario who commented that the Lake had never been calmer and birds on the water were easy to see and count. Thirdly, participation on this year’s count was at an all time high, with the 135 birders being the highest ever. The “party hours” or if you will, effort, was the highest by far this year too, with 484 party hours. This effort was 14% higher than the previous high in 2007. This is certainly related to the number of parties in the field. There were 74 separate parties, besting the next highest of 66 in 2007. Certainly the increased number of parties explains the record “party hours”, but I’m convinced there is more to it. With the weather being so benign, I’m sure it encouraged people to stay in the field longer. I’m sure lunches were shorter when you don’t have to recover from biting cold winds and I’m sure many were tempted to stay out to see the beautiful sunset. In my area, I ended the day at the entrance parking lot of the Brantford Golf & Country Club. Here you are high above the Grand River valley and you get an amazing vista towards the setting sun. Hard to believe you are in urban Brantford at this lookout.
Of the 140 species observed on the 2009 count, none were new for the count. Not surprising really, as after 36 years the pool of new species is quite diminished. However, this fall there were rarities observed all over the place that if found in the HSA and on the count, would have been new; Birds such as the Phainopepla in Brampton, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in Oakville, the Ash-throated Flycatcher at Point Pelee and the Western Kingbird at Port Burwell. However, all of these birds seemed to have arrived in Ontario with weather systems after the HFBC. Too bad, especially for the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher that actually was within our fall count circle! I will leave it to others to describe the details of the first HSA record of this incredibly rare species for Ontario.
There were six “Significant Species” observed on this year’s count. As a reminder, “Significant Species” are those species that have been seen on 20% of counts or less. Thus in the 36th year of HFBC, species have to have been seen on no more than six counts. Of these, Common Raven and Cackling Goose are really not “significant”. These two species will come off this list very soon as they are seen on almost all counts nowadays. Of course that is good news, especially with the Common Raven which is a very welcome addition to our resident species list. The other “Significant Species” in 2009 were Great Egret (2) (5th count records), Green Heron (2) (6th count records), Baird’s Sandpiper (3rd count record) and Black-throated Blue Warbler (6th count record).
There were however, several other notable species seen this year. The first Red-headed Woodpecker in 10 years was observed in old Haldimand Township. The marked decline in this species makes this a very special species to see on the fall count now. One Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was observed this year. This species has now been observed for four years in a row at the exact same location along Hardy Rd in Brantford. However, it may not be the same bird that has been there for four years, as on last year’s Brantford Christmas Bird Count, there were two sapsuckers at this location. We did very well with raptors this year. Nothing really was missed. There were three different Ospreys noted from widely separated areas and one juvenile Golden Eagle was recorded (see below as well). Both Red-eyed and Solitary Vireos were observed this year, and not one, but two Yellow (Eastern) Palm Warblers were observed this year. Also of note were the seven Eastern Phoebes seen throughout the HSA, the three Marsh Wrens in the Dundas Marsh, and the three Lincoln’s Sparrows reported.
With the excellent birding weather and the record “party hours” in 2009, it is not surprising that 22 species were recorded in record-high totals. These species totals are underlined in the species list below. For species such as Killdeer, Rock Pigeon, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Northern Cardinal, Fox Sparrow, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow, these record totals are most surely due to the increased count effort. Additionally with the largely windless conditions, “spishing” was highly effective on this day and those who “spish” on a regular basis probably recorded high totals for “spishable” birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets and sparrows. For species such as Wild Turkey, Bald Eagle, Merlin, Turkey Vulture, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Carolina Wren, the increased numbers are no doubt linked to “party hours”, however these species are still increasing in the HSA and the fall count reflects this. The Carolina Wren numbers are interesting. This year’s count of 67 is impressive, 21 higher than last year’s record of 46. In my area alone along the Grand River in Brantford, I recorded 21 Carolina Wrens. This species really excels in this riverine habitat. Also very notable was the nine Palm Warblers recorded. One party alone had six individuals, a group of four and two singletons. Also of note was the count of Red-breasted Mergansers this year. There were almost 10,000 RBMs seen this year, mostly off of Grimsby, which is almost 150% higher than the next highest count in 1995.
In the odds and sods department there are a few things I want to mention. There was a hybrid male Mallard X Northern Pintail at Windermere Basin and an albino Robin was seen in the Aldershot area. At Van Wagner’s Beach, a flock of 45 Pluvialis plovers was observed far out over the lake and could not be identified to species (Black-bellied or American Golden Plover). Black-bellied would have been somewhat more likely and it is too bad that they did not come closer to be identified, as it would have furnished a new high count record for either species for the HFBC. I also want to point out that Don Wills does part of his day by canoe. He spends about three hours of each count canoeing down Big Creek. I haven’t pointed this out previously but I think this deserves to be noted. I also want to comment on the juvenile Golden Eagle seen this year, as there is an interesting story to it. It was seen independently by three separate fall bird count parties as it passed over the north shore of Cootes Paradise and beyond. It was easy to determine that only one bird was involved as the plumage and timing of all sightings confirmed this. Additionally the same bird was reported to Ontbirds by a visiting, non-participating birder. Now this could be a cautionary tale about double-counting birds, and if the bird was a Turkey Vulture for instance, it would have gone down as three separate birds. However, there is nothing you can do about this with these highly visible, mobile birds. I don’t lose any sleep over possible double-counting. I think you just have to realize that this does happen and it is impossible to factor anything in for this. Nonetheless, I still think that many more Turkey Vultures are missed as they pass through compared to those that might be double-counted, so why worry about the ones that might be double-counted? The final item in the odds and sods department concerns the 89 species reported by Rod Dobos & Cheryl Edgecombe in their south shore Cootes Paradise territory. Rob wondered whether this might be the highest species total from any territory in the history of the fall count. It certainly might be. Anyone know of a higher total?
So in wrapping up, I would like to thank everyone who participated this year and I very much appreciated that everyone got their results in very quickly. I hope all of you will be participating again in 2010.
Area Covered: Selected areas within a 40.2km radius (25 miles)of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario (Hamilton Study Area-HSA) including: the Lake Ontario shoreline from Port Credit to Beamsville; the Conservation Areas of Berry, Binbrook, Burns, Christie, Felker’s Falls, Fifty Point, Mountsberg, Valens, Dundas Valley, and Spencer Gorge; Islay, Puslinch, Mohawk and Dunmark Lakes; Scotch Block Reservoir; Cootes Paradise; Woodland & Holy Sepulcher Cemeteries; Kings Forest; Esquesing and Frank Tracts; Bronte, Rattray, Middletown and Van Wagners Marshes; Courtcliff Park; Rock Chapel Sanctuary; Waterworks Park; Joe Sams Park; Shell Park; Green Lane Wetland; Brantford and Tom Howe (Hagersville) Landfills; Six Nations I.R.; Beverly Swamp; Hamilton Harbour; Windermere Basin; Mill, Milton Town & Tollgate Ponds; Smithville, Grimsby and Cainsville Sewage Ponds; Borers, Spring Valley, Stoney, Bronte, and Oakville Creek ravines; Red Hill, Dundas and Hendrie Valleys; and the Grand River from Cayuga to Cambridge.
Sunday, November 1, 2009: 12:00am-12:30am, 3:00am-5:15pm. Weather: Temperature 2 to 4 C at dawn increasing to a high varying from 8-10 C. Mostly overcast skies (90%) the whole day, with perhaps less cloud cover in the north part of the HSA. No measureable precipitation. Visibility at Lake Ontario as good as it gets. Winds calm at dawn, increasing to very light (4km/hr) by mid-morning from the south. 135 observers in 74 parties. Total party hours: 484.2.
Species: Underlined totals represent record-high numbers. Numbers in brackets following underlined totals give the previous high count followed by the year(s). Underlined species require documentation for the Hamilton Bird Records Committee either as date or geographic rarities (see Date Guide to the Birds of the Hamilton Area).
Snow Goose 1; Brant 1; Cackling Goose 6; Canada Goose 12,885; Mute Swan 175; Trumpeter Swan 73; Tundra Swan 118; Wood Duck 106; Gadwall 490; American Wigeon 166; American Black Duck 319; Mallard 6,190; Northern Shoveler 308; Northern Pintail 139; Green-winged Teal 542; Canvasback 50; Redhead 70; Ring-necked Duck 509; Lesser Scaup 3,583; Greater Scaup 5,073; Surf Scoter 171; White-winged Scoter 755; Black Scoter 36; Oldsquaw (Long-tailed Duck) 23,053; Bufflehead 1,890; Common Goldeneye 403; Hooded Merganser 306; Common Merganser 241; Red-breasted Merganser 9,966 (4,060-95); Ruddy Duck 854; Ring-necked Pheasant 1; Ruffed Grouse 6; Wild Turkey 95 (94-07); Red-throated Loon 11; Common Loon 70; Pied-billed Grebe 26; Horned Grebe 29; Red-necked Grebe 48; Double-crested Cormorant 201; Great Blue Heron 100; Great Egret 2; Black-crowned Night-Heron 13; Green Heron 2 (BL;TTh); Turkey Vulture 238 (121-06); Osprey 3 (3-98,07,08); Bald Eagle 5 (4-96,05,06,07); Northern Harrier 26; Sharp-shinned Hawk 29; Cooper’s Hawk 33; Northern Goshawk 1; Red-shouldered Hawk 4; Red-tailed Hawk 529; Rough-legged Hawk 9; Golden Eagle 1; American Kestrel 52; Merlin 10 (8-98); Peregrine Falcon 6; American Coot 258; Sandhill Crane 10; Black-bellied Plover 7; Killdeer 448 (429-78); Greater Yellowlegs 27; Lesser Yellowlegs 8; Dunlin 111; Baird’s Sandpiper 1 (RD,CE); Wilson’s Snipe 4; American Woodcock 5; Bonaparte’s Gull 19; Ring-billed Gull 10,908; Herring Gull 3,231; Great Black-backed Gull 49; Rock Pigeon 3,564 (3,433-07); Mourning Dove 2,097; Eastern Screech-Owl 32; Great Horned Owl 10; Northern Saw-Whet Owl 2; Belted Kingfisher 35; Red-headed Woodpecker 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker 123 (120-07); Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1; Downy Woodpecker 432 (342-99); Hairy Woodpecker 99 (98-07); Northern Flicker 37; Pileated Woodpecker 11; Eastern Phoebe 7; Northern Shrike 8; Blue-headed Vireo 1; Red-eyed Vireo 1 (MJ); Blue Jay 1,421 (1,343-01); American Crow 3,327; Common Raven 3; Horned Lark 138; Black-capped Chickadee 3,489 (2,673-07); Tufted Titmouse 4; Red-breasted Nuthatch 63; White-breasted Nuthatch 538 (417-07); Brown Creeper 104 (98-97); Carolina Wren 67 (46-08); Winter Wren 46; Marsh Wren 3 (3-81); Golden-crowned Kinglet 444; Ruby-crowned Kinglet 71; Eastern Bluebird 250; Hermit Thrush 37; American Robin 4,049; Brown Thrasher 2; Gray Catbird 3; Northern Mockingbird 52; European Starling 24,207; American Pipit 236; Cedar Waxwing 1,278; Orange-crowned Warbler 4 (4-80); Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 (JG,LH); Yellow-rumped Warbler 167 (129-97); Palm Warbler 9 (4-02) (6-BP;RLud;BWy (eastern race);TTh (eastern race); Common Yellowthroat 1; Eastern Towhee 6; American Tree Sparrow 1,119; Chipping Sparrow 20; Field Sparrow 8; Vesper Sparrow 1; Fox Sparrow 166 (157-02); Song Sparrow 277; Lincoln’s Sparrow 3 (2-03,93) (LF;GHo;DDeB,MDeB); Swamp Sparrow 67; White-throated Sparrow 513; White-crowned Sparrow 65; Dark-eyed Junco 2,918; Snow Bunting 58; Northern Cardinal 837 (708-07); Red-winged Blackbird 23,222; Eastern Meadowlark 12; Rusty Blackbird 248; Common Grackle 3,482; Brown-headed Cowbird 648; Purple Finch 80; House Finch 638; Pine Siskin 2; American Goldfinch 2,725 (2,164-07); House Sparrow 4,031 (2,707-97).
Total: 140 species; 172,614 individuals.
Count Period Birds (seen day before or day after count but not on count day): Manx Shearwater, Blackpoll Warbler, Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Black-legged Kittiwake.
Observers: Brian Ahara, Don Barnet, Glenn Barnett, Glenn Barrett, Graham Barrett, Kim Barrett, Mary Ann Bastien, John Bennett, Jim Biggar, Peter Booker, Jason Bracey, Duane Brown, Fran Bullock, Wayne Bullock, Jim Burrell, Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, Mike Cadman, Jerry Chapple, Nina Chapple, Barb Charlton, Michael Clark, Mark Cranford, Bill Crins, Carol Croke, Tom Crooks, Martin Daly, Sandy Darling, Rob Dobos, Jennifer Draper, Mark Draper, Dave Don, Jim Dowall, Ben Edgecombe, Cheryl Edgecombe, Gavin Edmonstone, Lois Evans, Luc Fazio, Janice Forster, Randy Fowler, Brett Fried, Becky Gaunt, Denys Gardiner, Jeff Gilbreath, Alex Gray, Andy Hampton, John Hannah, Liam Hannah, Jim Heslop, Brandon Holden, George Holland, Frank Horvath, Sandra Horvath, Jean Iron, Mark Jennings, Tim King, Shirley Klement, Bill Lamond (Compiler), Joyce Lechasseur, Gord Lewer, Dennis Lewington, Gwen Lewington, Joyce Litster, Rick Ludkin, Ron Luft, Jill Marshall, Greg Mayne, Arlene McCaw, Jim McCaw, Sheldon McGregor, Bill McIlveen, Kevin McLaughlin, Don McLean, Gerard McNaughton, Diane McSpurren, Anthony Meaney, Anthony Miller, Dolores Mishell, Brian Mishell, Frank Morley, George Naylor, Brad Novoselac, Owen Novoselac, Dan Olech, Karen Olech, Ron Pittaway, Brian Pomfret, Mary Pomfret, Norm Pomfret, Jim Pringle, Lauren Rae, Bill Read, Kayo Roy, Dan Salisbury, Alf Senior, Elaine Serena, Donna Sheppard, Josh Shea, George Sims, Bill Smith, Paul Smith, Bob Stamp, Larry Staniforth, Andy Steinberg, Chris Street, Mike Street, Neil Taylor, Tys Theysmyer, Tom Thomas, Aaron Thompson, Ashley Thompson, Kristen Thompson, Marina van Twest, Rohan van Twest, Rob Waldhuber, Phil Walker, Scott Watson, Jim Watt, Reinder Westerhoff, Angie Williams, Ken Williams, Don Wills, Bill Wilson, Dave Wood, Eleanor Wood, Brett Woodman, Brian Wylie. (Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, South-Peel Naturalists’ Club, Guelph Field Naturalists).
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