By Ed Poropat
A blanket of snow across the Haliburton Highlands once again heralds the arrival of the annual Minden Christmas Bird Count. It’s time to get those bird feeding stations stocked. This year, our count will take place on Saturday, Dec.18, and will mark the 55th consecutive year that this event has occurred.
For those unfamiliar with Christmas Bird Counts, it can seem like a somewhat daunting task.
How does it work? How do you know you haven’t counted the same bird twice? The Christmas Bird Count started way back in 1900 from what was originally a Christmas Day hunt. As the number of birds began to decline, it evolved into a yearly, non-consumptive census instead. This tradition has continued to the present day, with thousands of counts occurring across two continents and tens of thousands of citizen scientists contributing in any manner they can. In order to gain some sense of change, the count is conducted within the same standardized circle every year. Our 24 km count circle includes local communities such as Minden, Lochlin, Gelert, Ingoldsby, Kinmount, Miner’s Bay, and Moore Falls.
The standardized census occurs around the same time frame each year and is limited to a 24-hour period. On one specific day each year, field observers fan out across the designated area (each group with their own “piece of the pie”) and attempt to find and count every bird they can see or hear.
Notes are kept, detailing how much effort is expended (eg. hours on foot, kilometres driven, etc.) so the data can be statistically compared to other years in a valid manner. While this is occurring, feeder watchers throughout the count area are also contributing. They record birds visiting their backyard feeding stations and again keep track of the number of hours they spend watching. When the day is done, a quick picture of the local bird diversity and relative abundance can be gleaned. After our count is combined with hundreds of others across the continent, however, we finally obtain some meaningful insights into avian movements, and abundance.
So, what kind of bird life can we expect this winter? Of course, weather and local conditions always play a major role on count day, as well as the days leading up to it. Presently, most of our large lakes are still wide open, with minimal ice-cover. The late freeze-up in the far north has many arctic waterfowl still migrating through our area. Some may linger for our count, especially if the lakes remain open. Loons seem to be tardy with their departure this year. Many are still in the area, fishing and fattening up for their flight south.
Trumpeter swans seem to have taken up winter residence in the past several years. They are now an expected species on our count. Ruffed grouse populations appear to be strong this year. I frequently scare up birds when out walking. Raptors appear to be doing well also. Bald eagles are now a regular sight in the county in winter, and even Peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks have been seen recently, hunting pigeons in town.
Every year, birders scan the treetops not only for birds, but also for seed crops. These food sources often help predict what species might be present during the coming months. Some of our conifers have had an abundance of cones this year, especially the spruces. This should encourage some of the northern finches to visit this winter. Common redpolls, both red and white-winged crossbills, pine siskins, and evening grosbeaks have all been seen or heard in our area recently, although none are particularly common yet.
Most of these birds will remain to the north or east of our area due to an abundance of food there, but others will likely visit in the coming months, taking advantage of our local food sources. American goldfinches seem common this winter. Stocking your feeders with black oil sunflower seeds and/or nyger seed may encourage these northern finches to visit your yards. The abundance of cone seeds in our region also translates into a healthy rodent population. With rodents more common, owls may become more visible, especially around feeding stations. Checking trees and perches carefully around the perimeter of your yard may reveal one of these quiet, beautiful creatures hunting stealthily on your property.
Blue jays seemed to show only a moderate movement this fall. There appear to be a decent number of acorns and beechnuts in our region so most have likely decided to stay for the winter. You can expect them to terrorize your feeders! Canada jays, on the other hand, continue their decline due largely to climate change. Once an expected species on the Minden Count, it is now genuinely a rare bird in the southern part of Haliburton County. Putting out suet might encourage one to spend the winter in your neighbourhood. Consider yourself fortunate if you manage to attract one of these tame and charismatic birds to your yard.
Not all birds will come readily to hanging feeders. Scattering some mixed seed on the ground can also encourage birds such as sparrows, juncos, and even cardinals to visit your yard.
If you would like to participate as a field counter or a feeder watcher, please contact Ed Poropat at 705-457-3018 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To report birds at your feeder on the day of the count, you can phone me at the above number on Dec. 20. Alternatively, you can e-mail your results to me or mail them to 71 Dean Court, Box 1204, Haliburton, ON, K0M 1S0.
Please send your data in promptly so it can be tallied and included in the report to American
Birds. Species not seen by anyone on Dec. 18, but found on December 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, or 21, will be recorded as Count Week birds. We hope you’ll join us on Dec.18 to help make the 55th Minden Christmas Bird Count a continued success.