Common Loons © Mike MacLeod

2010 Fall Bird Count (FBC) Report

by Bill Lamond

The 2010 Hamilton Fall Bird Count (HFBC) on 7 November produced at total of 126 species. This is the lowest total since 2000 when 125 species were recorded. The results were disappointing as expectations were high that some northern species might be recorded. I was expecting for someone to find a Boreal Chickadee as there was a modest invasion into southern Ontario this fall. Moreover, I was more intrigued by the possibility of a Gray Jay, another species that is on the move southwards. However, neither of these species was noted. I was also expecting a fairly high species total in the range of 140+ species as there had not been any intense cold weather to push lingering birds out. So the results to me were quite a disappointment. It seemed that a lot of birds must have cleared out in the week before the count. Having the count on the last day possible in the count window (November 7th) did not help either. I think most observers were disappointed in their totals. These are some sample comments:

“Needless to say it was a poor count as most birds had migrated”;

“It was a pretty dull count with nothing too noteworthy, probably my lowest species total for the area”;

“A very disappointing count this year. Some areas that normally produce were devoid of birds”;

“Bird numbers were down significantly this year”;

“A very slow day”;

“The weather was good and we expected good numbers. However, the birds must have found something better to do than hang around waiting for us to count them. We spent the day wondering where they were”;

“After 4 hours of very frustrating searching I came up with very few birds…it was almost scary!!!”;

“Pretty sad numbers. Birds tended to be fewer this year than last”; and “Worst in years”.

Ok, ok enough, we get the picture.

However, not everyone was as pessimistic about the count. I found my area in Brantford to be about as “birdy” as it usually is and another nearby observer stated “it was an excellent day”. Mind you, he saw a Golden Eagle.

There were some significant highlights on the count. There were two new species for the HFBC in 2010. Most significantly a Le Conte’s Sparrow was seen in the Clappison’s Corners Wetland behind the Rona store in southwest Waterdown. This bird was originally found by Tom Thomas on the previous Thursday (Nov 4) and was seen on count day by Owen Novoselac and many others. This was only the 7th record ever for Le Conte’s Sparrow for the Hamilton Study Area (HSA). The other new count bird was a first winter Thayer’s Gull at the Stoney Creek lakeshore at Grays Road seen by Bill Smith, Alf Senior and Peter McParland.

There were a few other highlights to report as well. The count’s second ever Pine Warbler was observed by Jacob Bruxer, Tom Crooks, Dave Don, and Tom Ford along a hydro right-of-way between 1st and 2nd Concession northeast of Hagersville. A Purple Sandpiper was observed on the rocks at Fifty Point C.A. by Andrew Keaveney. This was only the 3rd record for the HFBC. There were some high counts that are worth noting here. The seven Tufted Titmice bested the previous high by one bird.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers continue to increase with a 7% increase over last year’s previous record. Of course the distribution of this woodpecker is uneven in the HSA, but it is more common than Hairy Woodpecker in most of our birding circle. Also of note was a record-high count of seven Northern Saw-whet Owls. This is just a chance occurrence, most likely due to dedicated birders looking for roosting birds in suitable habitat. Sandhill Crane numbers reached an all-time high with 30 individuals in the HSA on count day. This species is definitely on the increase. Both Golden and Bald Eagle totals were record-high. The five Golden Eagles, although certainly noteworthy, is really no surprise. Numbers of fall migrant Golden Eagles through Ontario have been exploding in the past two decades. This year alone, as of Nov. 11, there have been 141 Golden Eagles reported at Hawk Cliff with an amazing 40 individuals observed on the first day of November! Likely, a good percentage of these birds migrate through the HSA. Likewise the seven Bald Eagles on the count is no surprise to me. This species’ population continues to increase throughout Ontario and it is increasing in the HSA as a migrant, as a breeder and as a wintering bird.

Speaking of eagles, it was a bit of a challenge to try to accurately record the number of both Bald and Golden Eagles in the HSA on count day. If I just recorded all eagles without any scrutiny, there would have been eight Golden Eagles and 15 Bald Eagles. Eagles are large, conspicuous, sought-after birds which are prone to be re-counted as they move across territory boundaries. There were three juvenile Golden Eagles over Joe Sam’s Park in Waterdown between 9:45-10:15am. Based on discussions with observers, one of these birds was seen later over the Rona store in Waterdown and two of them were seen over Ancaster Creek in Dundas based on timing. Another Golden Eagle was seen over the Dundas Valley along Martin’s Road but was determined to be a separate bird as it had a distinctive trailing flight feather and it was seen at 11:30am. The other Golden Eagle in north Brantford may have been one of the Dundas-Waterdown birds but it is likely a different bird and has been recorded as such. With the Bald Eagles it was more difficult to determine actual numbers. There were four adults along the Grand River in the Brantford area but conservatively, I have left it as two to correspond with the pair that nested there. In the Hamilton Harbour-Cootes Paradise area, 11 Bald Eagles were reported by four adjacent parties. However, careful attention to plumage differences, timing of observations and discussions with the four parties, pared this group down to five birds.

The 2010 HFBC had six ‘Significant Species’. I have outlined in the past the definition of a ‘Significant Species’ which is a species that has been seen on 20% of counts or less. With this being the 37th count, species seen on seven or fewer counts are considered significant. The number of ‘Significant Species’ can be a measure of how “good” the count is. This year with six ‘Significant Species’, the same total as last year, but well below the record total of 14 in 1975, the count is about average in this respect. The other ‘Significant Species’ seen this year are Great Egret (6th count record) and Common Raven (7th count record). Both of these species will undoubtedly come off of this list in a few years as Common Raven has now been recorded for seven consecutive years now that it is a HSA breeding species. Also, the Great Egret is being recorded more frequently now (six years since 1992) and it will soon come off.

Also of note this year was the recording of six finch species including White-winged Crossbill and Evening Grosbeak. Evening Grosbeak has really declined across Ontario and this is only the second record of this species on the HFBC in the last nine years.

There were lots of negatives on this year’s count. Topping this list is the paltry number of shorebirds. Only five species were recorded, an all-time low. There have been four other years with only six species. Additionally, only 112 individual shorebirds were counted. Both woodcock and snipe were missed for only the 3rd time each and Pectoral Sandpiper was missed once again. This is becoming a familiar pattern with shorebirds on the fall count. The numbers of almost all species keep on dropping due to actual declining populations and/or decreasing habitat in the HSA. The number of Great Black-backed Gulls on fall counts continues to decline. Back in the early-90s, the average count for this species on the HFBC was around 190. Since that time numbers have gradually decreased such that a low water mark was reached this year with only 10 birds. However, this species population in North America is apparently stable and the reduction on the fall count seems an anomaly. Potentially this species is just migrating into our area later and later each year from the east coast, possibly due to warmer fall temperatures. The Hamilton CBC numbers do not show this same declining trend. One other negative seems to explain a lot about the 2010 count, at least to me. I have heard someone in the past say that a good indicator of lingering insectivorous birds is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The story goes that if you have lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets on your count, it is a good sign that there will be lingering swallows, vireos, warblers, phoebes, gnatcatchers, etc. This year we had none of the aforementioned species save for the usual Yellow-rumped Warblers and the exceptional Pine Warbler. On this year’s count we had only six Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a record-low total. Maybe there’s something to this.

So all in all, pretty much an average count with the species total of 126 being below the all-time count average of 130. Some were expecting more but it is noteworthy that we added two new species to the count in its 37th year. It is also worth noting that for the first time we had over 140 observers on the count. The HFBC just keeps getting more popular which is a very good thing. I want to thank everyone for getting their results to me so quickly and concisely and for promptly answering any questions that I had. I hope to see all of you back next year.

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 Sepulchre Cemeteries; King’s Forest; Esquesing and Frank Tracts; Bronte, Rattray, Middletown, and Van Wagners Marshes; Courtcliffe Park; Rock Chapel Sanctuary; Waterworks Park; Joe Sam’s 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, Ancaster, Stoney, Bronte, and Oakville Creek ravines; Red Hill, Dundas, and Hendrie Valleys; and the Grand River from Cayuga to Cambridge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010: 12:00-1:30am (owling), 2:45-6:30am (owling), 6:30am
to 5:15pm. Weather: Temperature -2-0 C at dawn increasing to a high of 8-9 C.
Winds calm at dawn with great visibility at Lake Ontario in early morning.
Winds gradually increasing to moderate speeds of 20kph from the SW by late afternoon. Partly cloudy in the morning but almost completely sunny in the afternoon. No precipitation. 142 observers in 68 parties. Total party hours: 443.7.

Species: Underlined totals represent record-high numbers unless stated as record-low. Numbers in brackets following underlined totals give the previous high count (or low 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). Species in bold and underlined require documentation to the Ontario Bird Records Committee.

Brant1; Canada Goose 15,949 (13,685-07); Mute Swan 212 (211-05);
Trumpeter Swan 64; Tundra Swan 31; Wood Duck 107; Gadwall 372; American Wigeon 134; American Black Duck 292; Mallard 4,452 ; Blue-winged Teal 2; Northern Shoveler 106; Northern Pintail 54; Green-winged Teal 535; Canvasback 65; Redhead 91; Ring-necked Duck 388; Lesser Scaup 1,643; Greater Scaup 3,458; Surf Scoter 289; White-winged Scoter 677; Black Scoter 254; Long-tailed Duck (Oldsquaw) 37,627; Bufflehead 1,043; Common Goldeneye 601; Barrow?s x Common Goldeneye hybrid 1; Hooded Merganser 362; Common Merganser 231; Red-breasted Merganser 1,328; Ruddy Duck 840; Ruffed Grouse 4; Wild Turkey 100 (95-09); Red-throated Loon 9; Common Loon 14; Pied-billed Grebe 9; Horned Grebe 2; Red-necked Grebe 39; Double-crested Cormorant 140; Great Blue Heron 84; Great Egret 1; Black-crowned Night-Heron 18; Turkey Vulture 55; Bald Eagle 7 (5-09); Northern Harrier 35; Sharp-shinned Hawk 26; Cooper?s Hawk 34; Northern Goshawk 2; Red-shouldered Hawk 1; Red-tailed Hawk 433; Rough-legged Hawk 9; Golden Eagle 5 (4-99); American Kestrel 48; Merlin 4; Peregrine Falcon 3; American Coot 1,109; Sandhill Crane 30 (22-99); Killdeer 97; Greater Yellowlegs 9; White-rumped Sandpiper 1; Purple Sandpiper 1 (AK); Dunlin 5; Bonaparte?s Gull 2; Ring-billed Gull 7,163; Herring Gull 1,986; Thayer?s Gull 1 (BSm, ASe, PM); Great Black-backed Gull 10 (low) (19-05); Rock Pigeon 2,664; Mourning Dove 1,227; Eastern Screech-Owl 21; Great Horned Owl 16; Long-eared Owl 8; Northern Saw-whet Owl 7 (4-75,82); Belted Kingfisher 34; Red-bellied Woodpecker 132 (123-09); Downy Woodpecker 353; Hairy Woodpecker 79; Northern Flicker 23; Pileated Woodpecker 7; Northern Shrike 8; Blue Jay 1,259; American Crow 3,399; Common Raven 1; Horned Lark 137; Black-capped Chickadee 3,103; Tufted Titmouse 7 (6-93); Red-breasted Nuthatch 60; White-breasted Nuthatch 340; Brown Creeper 37; Carolina Wren 56; Winter Wren 25; Golden-crowned Kinglet 292; Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6 (low) (6-77,78); Eastern Bluebird 129; Hermit Thrush 10; American Robin 3,230; Brown Thrasher 1; Gray Catbird 1; Northern Mockingbird 42; European Starling 30,153; American Pipit 552; Cedar Waxwing 1,888; Yellow-rumped Warbler 37; Pine Warbler
(JBr, DDon,TC,TF)1; Eastern Towhee 2; American Tree Sparrow 1,360; Chipping Sparrow 2; Field Sparrow 2; Le Conte?s Sparrow 1 (Tho;ON); Fox Sparrow 96; Song Sparrow 107; Swamp Sparrow 24; White-throated Sparrow 352; White-crowned Sparrow 20; Dark-eyed Junco 2,437; Snow Bunting 51; Northern Cardinal 630; Red-winged Blackbird 2,023; Rusty Blackbird 133; Common Grackle 129; Brown-headed Cowbird 60; Purple Finch 35; House Finch 437; White-winged Crossbill 2; Pine Siskin 56; American Goldfinch 1,970; Evening Grosbeak 3; House Sparrow 2,009.

Total: 126 species; 143,989 individuals.

Count Period Birds (seen day before or day after count but not on count day): Pacific
Loon 1 (BC,DDon); Short-eared Owl 1.

Observers: Alfred Adamo, Brian Ahara, Phil Armishaw, Anna Baranova, Glenn Barnett, Mary Ann Bastien, Jim Biggar, Jennifer Bock, Peter Booker, Hazel Broker, Duane Brown, Jacob Bruxer, Alvin Buckley, Fran Bullock, Wayne Bullock, Jim Burrell, Ken Burrell, Mike Cadman, Jerry Chapple, Nina Chapple, Barb Charlton, Mark Cranford, Bill Crins, Carol Croke, Tom Crooks, Martin Daly, Ken Dance, Sandy Darling, Donna DeBruin, Marco DeBruin, Rob Dobos, Bill Doekes, Gerry Doekes, Dave Don, Dave Donn, Chris Dunn, Paul Eagles, Cheryl Edgecombe, Gavin Edmonstone, Luc Fazio, Tom Ford, Randy Fowler, Denys Gardiner, Jeff Gilbreath, Alex Gray, Natalie Gray, Jerry Guenther, Jane Hamilton, Bill Harris, George Hentsch, Brandon Holden, George Holland, Frank Horvath, Sandra Horvath, Lukian Husak, Zakhar Husak, Jean Iron, Mark Jennings, Andrew Keaveney, Kevin Kuipers, Bill Lamond (compiler), Sarah Lamond, David Langford, Joyce Lechasseur, Dennis Lewington, Gwen Lewington, Joyce Litster, Rick Ludkin, Garrett Luft, Ron Luft, Rudy Luft, Bruce Mackenzie, Reuvin Martin, Julia Marco Dunn, Arlene McCaw, Jim McCaw, Ian McGovern, Laurel McGregor, Owen McGregor, Sheldon McGregor, Spencer McGregor, Bill McIlveen, Kevin McLaughlin, Don McLean, Peter McParland, John Hannah, Liam Hannah, Chantal Miller, Jason Miller, Matt Mills, Brian Mishell, Dolores Mishell, Frank Morley, George Naylor, Owen Novoselac, Rose Petersen, Ron Pittaway, Brian Pomfret, Mary Pomfret, Norm Pomfret, Jim Pringle, Bill Read, Francis Roberts, Wilma Robertson, Kayo Roy, Alf Senior, Elaine Serena, George Serena, Donna Sheppard, Bill Siverns, George Sims,
Joan Sims, Anna-Marie Smith, Bill Smith, Ian Smith, Nancy Smith, Paul Smith, Doris Southwell, Larry Staniforth, Chris Street, Mike Street, Neil Taylor, Alan Telford, Tys Theysmeyer, Tom Thomas, John Tomins, Michelle Tomins, Rohan van Twest, Rob Unruh, Mary Voisin, Rob Waldhuber, Jim Watt, Reinder Westerhoff, Angie Williams, Ken Williams, Don Wills, Bill Wilson, Dave Wood, Eleanor Wood, Brett Woodman, Bryan Wyatt, Brian Wylie. (Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, South Peel Naturalists’ Club, Guelph Field Naturalists).