Search This Blog

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2013 Christmas Bird Count - Gabriola Island Results

by Sharon McInnes

In 1,199 communities all over the Americas, for one day between Dec 14 and January 5, hordes of birders got up at dawn to count birds. This year’s count, which took place on Dec 29 on Gabriola Island, was the 114th, making the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) the longest-running Citizen Science project and wildlife census in the world.  In total, 28,644,830 individual birds were counted. On Gabriola, where the count includes only the north half of the island, birders counted 74 species and 3326 individual birds. These numbers don’t reflect the actual number of species or birds on the island (even on the north end), just those spotted by a counter.   

Dark-eyed juncos sittin' in a tree
Count them, count them, how many do you see?

This year’s numbers were significantly lower than last years (3326 compared to 4786), in part because of last year’s Pine Siskin irruption of 1239 birds. (This year only 6 siskins showed up.)  

Pine Siskin numbers plummetted this year

Differences in totals also result from transient flocks of waterbirds. For example, this year there were half the number of Mallards (114 compared to 239). But last year, counters tallied up 175 American Widgeons compared to a whopping 459 this year, and many more cormorants, both Double-crested and Pelagic. (2012: 35 DC cormorants; 2013: 81. 2012: 9 Pelagic; 2013: 16.) 

Many mallards - these ones at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC

Also, this year 10 fewer adult bald eagles were counted (down from 22 to 12) and 14 fewer feral turkeys, which are not official count birds but which we can’t seem to resist counting anyway.  

Yes, we know they don't "count". But we count them anyway!

One of the frustrations of any one-day count is that birds don’t always cooperate.  For example, no Red Crossbills showed up in the right locations at the right times to be counted this year. And last year 23 Trumpeter Swans were seen, but this year none. (On the other hand, I counted 14 at Coats March on January 13.) And one islander saw a Northern Goshawk a few days before the count, but on Count Day, no such luck.

In the passerine world, this year there were at least 50% more Northwestern Crows (from 19 to 32), American Robins (from 34 to 99), Golden-crowned Sparrows (from 29 to 47), and Varied Thrushes (25 to 88). 

One cold Varied Thrush, doing his best to keep warm

And the number of Anna’s hummingbirds went up slightly, from 26 to 28.

Anna's hummingbird. From 26 to 28 this year.
Photo by Alan Vernon, CC license. 

On the other hand, there were 50% fewer Hairy Woodpeckers (from 6 to 2), Pileated Woodpeckers (from 14 to 9), Common Ravens (from 101 to 56), Chestnut-backed Chickadees (from 297 to 111), Fox Sparrows (from 17 to 10), Red-breasted Nuthatches (from 78 to 38), Bewick’s Wrens (from 16 to 1), Dark-eyed Juncos (from 303 to 120), Bushtits (from 21 to 0), Red-Winged Blackbirds (from 25 to 1), House Finches (from 109 to 11), Purple Finches (from 7 to 1), Red Crossbills (from 17 to 0), and House Sparrows (from 4 to 0).  

Fox sparrow on a snowy limb

Male House Finch stopping for a drink at one of our bird baths

One of the more exciting finds this year were 3 Marsh Wrens, 2 of which were spotted (after a lot of cloak and daggery and wet feet) at Coats Marsh.  

Marsh Wren.
Many thanks to Don Wigle for gorgeous photo. 

Other unusual birds (possibly considered rare) spotted this year included Mourning Doves on El Verano and a White-throated Sparrow.  

Mourning Doves at Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca New York

So, what’s the point of all this? Why drag oneself out of bed at dawn to venture out in the cold of winter to count birds? According to the folks at Audobon, organizers of the  Christmas Bird Count, the information gleaned from the annual counts is used, in combination from data from other Citizen Science projects, to help scientists assess the health of bird populations and to guide conservation action. Over the years, they’ve learned, for example, that “Birds are not Climate Skeptics, having spoken with their wings.” (Audobon website). They’ve learned which bird populations are in decline (e.g. Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Pintail, Horned Lark, Boreal Chickadee, Common Tern, Evening Grosbeak, Sage-grouse) and which have come back from the brink, thanks to Endangered Species legislation (e.g. Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon) and how far and how quickly West Nile virus spread. So, really, maybe it is worth the early morning traipse through the woods in the middle of winter. Thankfully, it is for the tens of thousands of people who participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count.     

This article was first published (without all the photos) in
The Flying Shingle on February 10 2014. 
All photos not otherwise credited are by Sharon McInnes.
Please contact using comment function below for permission to use.

No comments: