Common Loons © Mike MacLeod

2007 Fall Bird Count (FBC) Report

by Bill Lamond

The 34th annual Hamilton Fall Bird Count (HFBC) was conducted on 4 November 2007. Temperatures were seasonal and winds were light to moderate, and with a variably cloudy sky, conditions were excellent for bird finding. Thus we ended up with a total of 137 species in 2007 which is about eight species above the all-time average of 129.3 although only about three species above the “last 15 year” average of 134.6.

There were nine “significant species” observed this year (recorded on 20% or fewer counts). The undisputed highlight of the count was the Swainson’s Hawk seen by Barb Charlton near Peters Corners. This Ontario rarity is a first count record and the latest Hamilton record ever. The other significant species were Cackling Goose (2), Cattle Egret (2), & Eared Grebe (2nd count records); King Eider, Great Egret & Common Raven (4) (4th count records); Sandhill Crane (6th count record); and Bohemian Waxwing (6) (7th count record and first record in 10 years). Common Raven was seen by 3 separate parties and this species will likely become annual on fall counts. Similarly, Sandhill Crane is on the increase and this species will likely fall off the significant list, although surprisingly it is the first record of this species since 1999. Notable species usually seen on about 1/3 of counts and tallied in 2007 include Harlequin Duck, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Lesser Black-backed Gull, House Wren, Marsh Wren and Common Redpoll. Other notables usually seen on about ? of counts and observed this year include Brant, Northern Saw-whet Owl (2), Eastern Phoebe (3), Tufted Titmouse (5), and Nashville Warbler. In 2007 there were five species that were recorded as count-period birds only. Count-period birds are seen in the Hamilton Study Area (HSA) either the day before or the day after the count but not on count day. The count-period birds this year were high quality. One species would have been new for the count (Ross’s Goose) and two species would have been second count records (Barrow’s Goldeneye and Barred Owl).

Several species were seen in unusually high numbers this year. In fact 22 species had record-high counts this year. This was most notable in woodpeckers. Three species were record-high and additionally Downy Woodpecker was very close to being record-high. Red-bellied Woodpecker numbers were simply incredible. Numbers in 2007 were 120, 42% higher than the record-high count in 2006. This species is now more common locally than Hairy Woodpecker. However, its distribution in the HSA is uneven. It is most common in the SE quadrant of the circle and least common in the NE quadrant. Now some may wonder if this rapid increase is at the expense of another woodpecker species. Red-headed Woodpecker comes to mind as Red-headed Woodpecker has all but vanished from the HSA….

However, most of the increase in Red-bellied Woodpecker has come after the decline of the Red-headed Woodpecker. And if you think the Hairy Woodpecker may be affected, know that Hairy Woodpecker was at record-high levels this year as well. The other woodpecker in record-high numbers was Pileated Woodpecker. Possibly there are many more dying trees in woodlots that are providing more food and potential nest sites. Possibly it is a function of increased count effort (party-hours) which I will discuss below. In any event it is good news, tempered by the fact that Red-headed Woodpecker has not been recorded on the fall count since 1999. Both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks were record-high this year. It seems hard to believe, but in the first 10 years of the HFBC, Cooper’s Hawk was missed every other year and averaged two/count. Now, it is hard to imagine missing Cooper’s Hawk on a count and numbers in the past 10 years have averaged about 17/count. This species like many other raptor species has definitely increased in the last several years. It was good to see Pied-billed Grebe numbers at record-high levels this year, well above the previous high. Maybe this reflects stable populations for this wetland nester. Also encouraging were good numbers of both American Coot and Wilson’s Snipe, species which have exhibited much lower totals on recent counts.