Common Loons © Mike MacLeod

2005 Fall Bird Count (FBC) Report

by Bill Lamond

The 32nd annual Hamilton Fall Bird Count (HFBC) was conducted under less than ideal weather conditions on Sunday November 6, 2005. This is quite an understatement.

At dawn, foggy conditions prevailed in much of the area giving way soon after to thunderstorms (a count first!) and heavy rainfall in some areas (with some hail!) for up to an hour. Then intermittent showers prevailed until noon. Then things really got going. The wind! Undoubtedly the windiest fall count of them all. In the afternoon the wind was steady at 60kph with gusts up to 90kph. It was literally hazardous to walk in the woods.

Here is a sample of volunteer comments: “then the winds came in with such force it was hard to find and ID anything that wasn’t grounded or obvious”; “So windy, I couldn’t hear a damn thing!”; “a wet leaf in the face at 50-60 kph is not a pleasant experience”; “I’ve never seen so many whitecaps on Lake Ontario”; “the wind was so great that the small party nervously walked in well treed areas”; and “Appalling. Very strong west winds made it almost unbirdable and certainly kept passerines largely hunkered down and difficult to find.” However, not everyone was adversely affected as one party from the Dundas Valley stated, “high winds did not affect us in the valley.” Indeed quite a day weather-wise with just about everything: fog, thunder, lightning, heavy rain, light rain, hail, sun, rainbows, high winds and temperatures warming to an unseasonable 17?C at noon and then slowly decreasing to about 10?C at dusk.

Although the afternoon was largely a write-off for finding birds, the morning, despite the rain, was quite birdy. Several areas had excellent results between the showers, with some groups stating that birds seemed to be almost everywhere especially robins, waxwings and sparrows. This no doubt explains how most species were seen in near average levels. I have always noticed, too, that the morning is the best time for finding birds and that the mid-afternoon can sometimes be slow for birds. My point is that the high winds, although useless for landbird finding, did not materialize until after the prime bird-finding time, thus not affecting final results too much. It would have been a much different story if the winds had prevailed from first light.

This year’s count became part of the fall 2005 Cave Swallow sensation in Ontario as 10 Cave Swallows were seen along the Stoney Creek shoreline by the Bill Smith, Jim Cram, Jim Dowall, Alf Senior party. This was a first for the fall count and was certainly the highlight. Three other parties observed “square-tailed swallows” fly overhead without being able to ID them. This must have been very frustrating as all of these could have been Cave Swallows. However, it is far from a certainty as both Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were seen as flyovers on the count.

Surf Scoters were present in record-high numbers on the Fall Count this year. Photo: Brandon Holden

Another species new to the count was the Wood Thrush found by Mark Jennings at Burloak Woods. This species is an excellent date rarity. Other good birds found on this year’s count include Common Raven (2) (2nd count record), Common Moorhen and Pomarine Jaeger (2) (4th count records), Common Tern and Black-throated Blue Warbler (5th count records), Red-eyed Vireo and Northern Rough-winged Swallow (6th count records), Marsh Wren (7th count record) and Harlequin Duck, House Wren and Lincoln’s Sparrow (8th count records). This was the first year four species of wren were seen, and the first year that three species of swallow were counted. Although counting conditions were not ideal, there were a few species observed in record-high numbers including Black-crowned Night-Heron, Mute Swan, Surf Scoter, Carolina Wren and White-throated Sparrow. Conversely, Great Black-backed Gull was at an all-time low, probably the result of this species not having moved into the area yet due to the unseasonably warm weather this fall.

Other low-lights on the count were shorebird totals. Only six species were seen this year and of those some were in very low numbers including Dunlin and Pectoral Sandpiper. Lack of suitable habitat or lack of shorebirds? Hard to say. Finch numbers and diversity were also pathetic with only four species observed. Evening Grosbeak was missed for the 4th straight year and Purple Finch and Pine Siskin were barely recorded. Other negatives this year were the absences of Northern Shrike and Rough-legged Hawk for only the 3rd time each on a fall count. Additionally Red-shouldered Hawk and Tufted Titmouse went unrecorded. Likely all of the above four species would have been seen if the gale force winds had not materialized.

The cumulative fall count total over 32 years now stands at 239 species.

For the 2005 count, we recorded a total of 132 species, which is four above the 32-year average. However, in comparison to the “Last 10” average (135), it is somewhat below average. The explanation for this larger average for the last 10 years is probably in the party hours. Over the last several years we have been getting more and more birders on the fall count. In fact, we had a record number of participants this year at 124. No doubt birders are also learning their areas better, thus maximizing the count’s potential.

Lastly I would like to thank all of the participants on this year’s fall count. The dedication of participants in getting out despite the foul weather is noteworthy. I also appreciate the fact that everyone was able to get their results to the compiler in a very timely fashion to enable a quick compilation and early publication. Thank you everyone!

Pomarine Jaegers were one of the highlights of the Fall Count this year. (this individual photographed in Barrie) Photo: Brandon Holden

Area Covered: Selected areas within a 40.2km radius of Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario (Hamilton Study Area-HSA) including: the Lake Ontario shoreline from Port Credit to Beamsville; the Conservation Areas of Binbrook, Burns, Christie, Fifty Point, Mountsberg, Valens, Dundas Valley, Taquanyah, and Spencer Gorge; Islay, Puslinch, Mohawk and Dunmark Lakes; Scotch Block Reservoir; Cootes Paradise; North Waterdown Wetland; Grimsby Lakeshore Wetland; Woodland and Holy Sepulcher Cemeteries; Kings Forest; Burloak Woods; Shell Park; Esquesing Tract; Bronte, Rattray, Middletown and Van Wagner’s Marshes; Bronte Creek P.P.; Vanderliek Farm Pond; Waterworks and Courtcliff Parks; Green Lane Wetland; Brantford Landfill; Six Nations F.N.; Beverly Swamp; Hamilton Harbour; Windermere Basin; Mill, Milton Town and Tollgate Ponds; Smithville and Cainsville Sewage Ponds; Spring Valley, Stoney, 16-Mile, Big, Bronte, and Oakville Creek ravines; Red Hill, Dundas and Hendrie Valleys; and the Grand River from Cayuga to Cambridge.

Sunday, November 6, 2005: 12:00 a.m – 12:30 a.m., 4:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Weather at Hamilton: Temperature 12?C at dawn to a high of 17?C at noon decreasing gradually to 10?C at dusk. Largely overcast at dawn with fog and light to moderate S winds. Thunderstorms beginning at 9 a.m. with heavy rain, and scattered hail, for one hour followed by intermittent showers until noon. Winds becoming strong by 11 a.m., with sustained winds all afternoon of 55 kph with gusts of 90 kph from the SW. Some sun in pm but mostly cloudy. Visibility at Lake Ontario good. 124 observers in 55 parties.

Total party hours: 353.2

Species: Underlined totals represent record-high numbers, except when indicated as record-low. Numbers in brackets following underlined totals give the previous extreme tally and the year. Species in bold require documentation for the Ontario Bird Records Committee. 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).

Red-throated Loon 7; Common Loon 11; Pied-billed Grebe 16; Horned Grebe 13; Red-necked Grebe 45; Double-crested Cormorant 451; Great Blue Heron 95; Black-crowned Night-Heron 23 (18-1989); Turkey Vulture 35; Snow Goose 1; Canada Goose 9,167; Mute Swan 211 (177-2002); Trumpeter Swan 24 (not in official total); Tundra Swan 11; Wood Duck 54; Gadwall 534; American Wigeon 396; American Black Duck 356; Mallard 6,404; Blue-winged Teal 3; Northern Shoveler 149; Northern Pintail 38; Green-winged Teal 733; Canvasback 151; Redhead 211; Ring-necked Duck 384; Lesser Scaup 1,036; Greater Scaup 6,187; Harlequin Duck 1; Surf Scoter 423 (296-2002); White-winged Scoter 262; Black Scoter 71; Long-tailed Duck 23,758; Bufflehead 400; Common Goldeneye 425; Hooded Merganser 175; Common Merganser 40; Red-breasted Merganser 473; Ruddy Duck 551; Bald Eagle 4 (4-1996); Northern Harrier 7; Sharp-shinned Hawk 24; Cooper’s Hawk 19; Northern Goshawk 2; Red-tailed Hawk 201; American Kestrel 24; Merlin 5; Peregrine Falcon 5; Ring-necked Pheasant 2; Ruffed Grouse 2; Wild Turkey 33 (26-2000); Common Moorhen 1 (KW), American Coot 597; Killdeer 167; Greater Yellowlegs 18; Sanderling 7; Pectoral Sandpiper 1; Dunlin 16; Wilson’s Snipe 10; American Woodcock 2; Pomarine Jaeger 2 (BCr/BCu,GSl/AM,JiM); Bonaparte’s Gull 158; Ring-billed Gull 12,157; Herring Gull 1,261; Great Black-backed Gull 19 (low) (49-1981/86); Common Tern 1; Rock Pigeon 2,236; Mourning Dove 1,888; Eastern Screech Owl 19; Great Horned Owl 5; Short-eared Owl 1; Northern Saw-whet Owl 1; Belted Kingfisher 19; Red-bellied Woodpecker 34; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1; Downy Woodpecker 159; Hairy Woodpecker 46; Northern Flicker 35; Pileated Woodpecker 5; Eastern Phoebe 1; Red-eyed Vireo 1 (RD,CE); Blue Jay 870; American Crow 1,988; Common Raven 2 ( BCh/RvT,TvT, MvT); Horned Lark 133; Tree Swallow 12; Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1; Cave Swallow 10 (new for count BSm,JC,JD,ASe); Swallow sp. 5; Black-capped Chickadee 1,945; White-breasted Nuthatch 186; Red-breasted Nuthatch 21; Brown Creeper 36; Carolina Wren 37 (27-1975);

House Wren 1; Winter Wren 33; Marsh Wren 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet 202; Ruby-crowned Kinglet 12; Eastern Bluebird 124;
Hermit Thrush 12; Wood Thrush 1 (new for count MJ); American Robin 6,273; Gray Catbird 4 (4-1979/2002); Northern Mockingbird 27; Brown Thrasher 1; European Starling 46,086; American Pipit 244; Cedar Waxwing 1,742; Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 (TT,PB); Yellow-rumped Warbler 17; Eastern Towhee 1; American Tree Sparrow 714; Chipping Sparrow 8; Field Sparrow 2; Fox Sparrow 45; Song Sparrow 151; Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 (BWyl); Swamp Sparrow 21; White-throated Sparrow 815 (682-2002); White-crowned Sparrow 43; Dark-eyed Junco 2,383; Snow Bunting 39; Northern Cardinal 537; Red-winged Blackbird 19,998; Eastern Meadowlark 3; Rusty Blackbird 377; Common Grackle 1,248; Brown-headed Cowbird 105; Purple Finch 12; House Finch 412; Pine Siskin 11; American Goldfinch 1,552; House Sparrow 1,537.

Total: 132 species; 162,563 individuals.

Count Period Birds (birds seen day before or day after count but not on count day): Northen Gannet, Brant, Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Observers: Brian Ahara, Roy Allen, Marilyn Armstrong, Don Barnet, Glenn Barrett, Kim Barrett, Glenn Barnett, John Black, Peter Booker, Hazel Broker, Duane Brown, George Bryant, Jim Burrell, Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, Mike Cadman, Barb Charlton, Michael Clark, Jim Cram, Mark Cranford, Bill Crins, Tom Crooks, Bob Curry, Ken Dance, Angela Darwin, Donna DeBruin, Marco DeBruin, Keith Dieroff, Rob Dobos, Dave Don, Jim Dowall, Bruce Duncan, Cheryl Edgecombe, Gavin Edmondstone, Sue Edmondstone, Jill Elliott, Lois Evans, Luke Fazio, Ron Fowler, Denys Gardiner, Fraser Gibson, Sachi Gibson, Bobbi Greenleese, Jerry Guenther, Andy Hampton, Jim Heslop, Brandon Holden, Sue Holden, Jean Iron, Mark Jennings, John Keenleyside, Shirley Klement, Ursula Kolster, Ruth Kroft, Bill Lamond (Compiler), Gordon Lewer, Dennis Lewington, Gwen Lewington, Ron Luft, Rudy Luft, Bruce Mackenzie, George Mann, Arlene McCaw, Jim McCaw, Joan McEwan, Laurel McGregor, Sheldon McGregor, Spencer McGregor, Bill McIlveen, Michael McKeown, Kevin McLaughlin, Don McLean, Charlene McNaughton, Gerard McNaughton, George Meyers, Dolores Mishell, Brian Mishell, Barb Mockford, Glenn Mockford, Levi Moore, George Naylor, Rose Petersen, Brian Pomfret, Mary Pomfret, Norm Pomfret, George Pond, Jim Pringle, Lauren Rae, Daniel Riley, Garth Riley, Francis Roberts, Carl Rothfels, Kayo Roy, Alf Senior, Elaine Serena, George Serena, Donna Sheppard, Glenda Slessor, Al Smith, Anna-Marie Smith, Bill Smith, Ian Smith, Paul Smith, Rick Snider, Bob Stamp, Mike Street, Neil Taylor, Alan Telfer, Tom Thomas, Marina van Twest, Rohan van Twest, Theo van Twest, Rob Waldhuber, Jim Watt, Reinder Westerhoff, George Wilkes, Margaret Wilkes, Angie Williams, Ken Williams, Don Wills, Bill Wilson, Brett Woodman, Bryan Wyatt, Brian Wylie. (Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, South-Peel Naturalists’ Club, Guelph Field Naturalists).