Wednesday 20 December 2023

Christmas Bird Count Weekend 2023

Been awhile since I've written about, well, anything—let alone a Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Each year for the past several years, I have participated on both the London CBC and the Rondeau/Blenheim CBC, which fall in that order on the same weekend (first weekend of count period). It is always a fun time spending the whole weekend counting birds! For a long time, these were also the only CBCs that I did, however I have since taken on the Bayfield and the Algonquin CBC, which will be taking place next week. 

I didn't really take my camera out much, so I will have to dig into the archives for supplementary photos... 

I started my London CBC route (which runs alongside the Thames River in Southeast London) around the same time as I usually do. The weather was rather mild, there was little wind, and no rain! Overall, seemed to be a nice day weather-wise to be out! The mild weather likely doesn't help when it comes to concentrating birds, although there is potential for some odd lingering species. 

 Right out of the gate, many of the usual suspects, such as Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. A couple Winter Wrens were heard chattering along the river. A Great Blue Heron also flew by, which is a very hit and miss species during the winter along the river, although not too unexpected. 

Continuing along, we found a nice little group of birds, and upon pishing them in, had four species of woodpecker, including a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a very good bird for the CBC. I know at least one other was seen on the count.
We encountered a couple more groups of songbirds along the way, but generally, it was pretty quiet. I found there to be good numbers of Song Sparrows (I ended up with 14), goldfinches, chickadees. A total of 20 Downy Woodpeckers was impressive as well. 

Song Sparrow

I had a total of 36 species along my route that morning, and just shy of 600 individuals. This ties my highest species count for this route, but it in the bottom half for number of individuals. This isn't too surprising, however, as the duck numbers that usually pad the individual totals just weren't present this year. I did add a few new species to the all time list for this route as well: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. I have had some goodies on this route over the years such as House Wren (2019), Lincoln's Sparrow (2022), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (2018).

 After completing my route, I went over to Pottersburg Park to search for a couple lingering species. Of course, a species of priority for count day was the overwintering Philadelphia Vireo that was found there. This bird represents the first winter record of this species in Ontario. Luckily, it had been seen earlier in the day by another party—of course this is a new record for the London CBC, and likely all Canadian CBCs. I did put in a little time trying to see it anyways, but had no luck. I succeeded on other fronts though, with seeing a wintering Hermit Thrush (one of several seen on the CBC), as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

Philadelphia Vireo (from December 14)

I'm not sure what kind of totals are out there for the London CBC yet, but I do know that a number of good birds were seen, including another count first, the Black-billed Magpie that had been around for a couple weeks just south of London. 

The next day it was down to Rondeau, arriving just before sunrise. Unfortunately, the weather was not as nice as the day previous. Although it was actually a bit more mild, it was raining pretty steadily, and wasn't about to let up. It was difficult to want to get out of the car. Eventually, I did, and started the lakewatch at the visitor centre beach access, as per usual. It was slow at first, but the winds were good, so I persisted. Soon the birds were moving, and there were things to look at. Normally I might lakewatch for an hour before starting my walking, but things were still going strong, so I ended up being out there for nearly three! Red-breasted Mergansers were really moving, and I tallied over 3000, as well as a number of scaup and Common Goldeneye. There were a few White-winged Scoters, as well as a pair of Surf Scoters. Another highlight were some Red-throated Loons. Although not really moving, there were also quite the number of Ruddy Ducks. I estimated over 1000, but surely many more than that. Very difficult to count in the waves.

Red-breasted Mergansers

After I finally pried myself away from the lake, I starting walking up Lakeshore Road towards the campground. It was generally pretty quiet, but with a few pockets of activity. Highlights included several White-throated Sparrows, a pair of Tufted Titmouses (titmice? who knows), and a couple Hermit Thrushes. I ended up seeing four Hermit Thrushes on my walk, so it seems to be a good year for them. 

Hermit Thrush

At the churches in the campground there was a large sparrow flock, mostly tree sparrows and juncos, but also a couple of Field Sparrows, which were nice to see. A Hermit Thrush here too, but not too much else to speak of, other than a Red-tailed Hawk. 

It was then back south down Harrison Trail, but not before poking around the Pony Barn a little bit. I did hear a Pileated Woodpecker here, which may prove to have been the only one on the count! 

Harrison was...quiet. But I mean, it usually is. My highlights were that fourth Hermit Thrush, a robin, and the screech owl in its usual spot along Bennett Ave. 

I ended the route, much later than I usually do, back on the beach. I was hoping for a Bald Eagle, but no luck. I don't think I have ever missed that species before! Perhaps the rain in the morning had kept them at bay.

I was losing sunlight, but just for fun, poked around the north end of the campground a bit. I missed the Audubon's Warbler, but saw some of the other "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warblers. Also a couple of Fox Sparrows. Golden-crowned Kinglets were also around, taunting me, as I had missed them in the 10km+ of walking I did!

Lastly I checked Keith McLean CA on my way out. Sometimes there are some interesting things trying to overwinter here. On past CBCs I have seen Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, and Nelson's Sparrow. Not today however! Only things of note were Savannah Sparrows, a flicker, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Another "CBC Weekend" in the books! I am looking forward to the Bayfield count on the 27th!