By Ed Poropat
Well it’s almost that time of year again. The 53rd annual Minden Christmas Bird Count is quickly approaching and will be held on Saturday Dec. 14. This count will be one of thousands that will take place across North America over a three week period. Originally this traditional event was an actual hunt held on Christmas Day where teams competed to shoot as many birds (and furred creatures) in a day as possible.
Eventually by 1900 it evolved into a bird census instead of a hunt. Today tens of thousands of citizen scientists gather together to participate in these counts and help provide a snapshot of changing bird populations across the continent. When combined with other projects such as the Breeding Bird Survey the event provides invaluable data to determine the long-term health of our avian populations and helps provide a dynamic picture of how these populations have changed over time and space.
A standardized 24km diameter circle is utilized year after year. Our count circle is centred south of Minden and was chosen by former Minden resident Dennis Barry (the original compiler of this count for 50 years!). It includes as many habitats as possible especially open water. The area encompasses the communities of Lochlin Gelert Kinmount Moore Falls Miners Bay and of course Minden. Every year field participants travel to the count circle and attempt to count as many birds as possible within a 24 hour period. At the same time feeder watchers are observing from the cozy comfort of their homes and sharing what they find. The data is compiled submitted to the National Audubon Society and analyzed with other counts over the long term. Although bird numbers can fluctuate enormously in a region year-to-year it is this long-term view combined with continent wide data that is vital to assessing and understanding actual declines.
Every year is different when counting birds. Some years winter finches abound due to food shortages in other regions of the country. Unseasonably cold winters freeze any remaining open water causing waterfowl to depart to the south. Mild winters have the opposite effect encouraging waterfowl and gulls to linger. Even passerines such as robins grackles or sparrows will attempt to over-winter if food supply is adequate. So what does this year look like?
Many of you have likely noticed the lack of birds at your feeders. Fear not! A quick walk around any woods near you will reveal a heavy cone crop on most conifers (cedar tamarack fir and spruce) excellent seed production on many hardwoods (maple ash and oak) and a good berry/fruit crop. With all this available natural food many birds are taking advantage of food around them and not needing to rely on feeders as heavily. I hear goldfinches almost daily in my yard for example and have yet to see one on any of my feeders. A similarly excellent crop of food to the north and northeast of us means many winter finches will be non-existent or in low numbers this winter.
Food more than weather is the limiting factor for bird survival in winter. The excellent oak mast this year means blue jays will remain in strong numbers this season. A healthy cone crop has allowed red-breasted nuthatches purple finches and goldfinches to linger in the county instead of migrating south. Because of the heavy cone and berry crops to the north grosbeaks redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings will likely not extend as far as Haliburton County.
This is mostly true of crossbills also although there have been some small flocks wandering about. Look or listen for them around good hemlock or spruce stands with many cones visible. Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers seem to be in good numbers this year as they investigate cones branches and trunks for insects to eat.
Gulls and waterfowl are still present in large numbers but this can change quickly if the lakes freeze solid and they have no open water to roost in at night. There are still a few Common Loons in the area. Bald Eagles continue to increase in number around the province with a healthy population over-wintering in the region especially around the landfills.
With the healthy food crop in Haliburton region there is a possibility for some interesting birds to linger for the count this year. Hanging baskets or balls of fat/suet at this time of year can draw in some of these rarer visitors. A few of the hardier warblers such as Pine or Yellow-rumped will take advantage of these feeding stations. The Canada Jay (formerly called Gray Jay) has all but disappeared from the southern Haliburton County landscape in the last few decades. They are especially drawn to suet feeders and will be a species we will be targeting during the count.
What will be the best bird found in 2019? The hummingbird observed last year was an incredible find! Could this year bring a Brown Thrasher? A Northern Mockingbird? A rare northern owl such as a Boreal Owl?
Keeping feeders well stocked in the coming few weeks will benefit resident birds and field counters as we approach the Minden Christmas Bird Count. 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 email@example.com.
To report birds at your feeder on the day of the count phone 705-286-1189 between 5 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 14 or phone Ed on Dec. 15. Alternatively you can email your results to Ed or mail them to 71 Dean Court Box 1204 Haliburton ON K0M 1S0.
Results must be received by Jan. 6 in order to be included in the report to American Birds. Species not seen by anyone on Dec. 14 but found on Dec. 11 12 13 15 16 or 17 will be recorded as Count Week birds.
We hope you’ll join us on Dec. 14 to help make the 53rd Christmas Bird Count in Haliburton County the best ever.