Bird Count Reports

Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count, 2019

by John Patterson

Thirty-nine participants enjoyed a pleasant day that started partly cloudy and cool, but soon turned sunny and warm, with only light winds. The species count this year was 159, a total exceeded only twice before, compared to the long-term average (LTA) of 146. A new addition to the species list for the fall count is Black-throated Blue Warbler, spotted by Jan Shadick at Blackstrap. The total count of 43,162 was close to the long-term average (LTA) of 45,313. This year teams were asked to fully count all species. Previously, to reduce the risk of observer fatigue, participants were given the option of counting to 25 for Canada Goose and several of the dabbling ducks and only recording large flocks thereafter, but in recent years many teams have chosen to fully count these species. Now with a full count by all teams, we will be better able to note any significant changes in the abundance of these common species.

This year teams were asked to fully count all species. Previously, to reduce the risk of observer fatigue, participants were given the option of counting to 25 for Canada Goose and several of the dabbling ducks and only recording large flocks thereafter, but in recent years many teams have chosen to fully count these species. Now with a full count by all teams, we will be better able to note any significant changes in the abundance of these common species.

The count date this year apparently did not coincide with peak migration for Arctic-nesting geese as numbers were well below average. No Ross’s Geese were sighted this year and the combined total for Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose was 41% of the LTA.

After a dry year, water levels were low with many sloughs and marshes completely dry. Even extensive water bodies such as Indi Lake were almost dry. Waterfowl and shorebirds were concentrated on the remaining wetland habitat and numbers were generally above average, with counts for Stilt Sandpiper (145), Baird’s Sandpiper (195) and Semipalmated Sandpiper (201) all setting new highs. A count of 289 Northern Pintail was the third highest since 1995 and 321% of the LTA. Lower than normal counts were recorded for Gadwall and Bufflehead at 23% and 14% of their respective LTAs. Among the grebes only Red-necked Grebe was present in average numbers. In contrast Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe and Western Grebe were at 20%, 31%, 48% and 30% of their respective LTAs. These below average counts however, pale in comparison with the unprecedented low count for American Coot. On the spring count earlier this year American Coot was at 15% of the LTA, but the fall count was lower still at just 3% of the LTA. Counts for American Coot since 1995 have ranged from 217 to 12,914 with an average of 3,001. The count this year was 96, an all-time low. Where were the coots?

After a dry year, water levels were low with many sloughs and marshes completely dry. Even extensive water bodies such as Indi Lake were almost dry. Waterfowl and shorebirds were concentrated on the remaining wetland habitat and numbers were generally above average, with counts for Stilt Sandpiper (145), Baird’s Sandpiper (195) and Semipalmated Sandpiper (201) all setting new highs. A count of 289 Northern Pintail was the third highest since 1995 and 321% of the LTA. Lower than normal counts were recorded for Gadwall and Bufflehead at 23% and 14% of their respective LTAs. Among the grebes only Red-necked Grebe was present in average numbers. In contrast Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe and Western Grebe were at 20%, 31%, 48% and 30% of their respective LTAs. These below average counts however, pale in comparison with the unprecedented low count for American Coot. On the spring count earlier this year American Coot was at 15% of the LTA, but the fall count was lower still at just 3% of the LTA. Counts for American Coot since 1995 have ranged from 217 to 12,914 with an average of 3,001. The count this year was 96, an all-time low. Where were the coots? New high counts were recorded for Common Nighthawk (5), Bald Eagle (16), Downy Woodpecker (32), Peregrine Falcon (8) and Red-eyed Vireo (25). Pine Siskin was found in much higher than normal numbers. The final count of 406 was ten times the LTA.

Total sparrow numbers were 75% of their LTA and of the individual species only Savannah Sparrow was significantly above the LTA (181%). Almost completely absent was Dark-eyed Junco, perhaps due to warming temperatures and delayed migration. In the 10-year period from 1995-2004 the average count was 185. In the recent 10-year period, 2009-2018, the average count was 17. This year there were only 3.

The abundance and variety of warblers was slightly above average this year. The 17 species recorded were two higher than the LTA and the total count was 16% above the LTA. Thank you to all participants for your continued support of the fall count.

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Saskatoon Nature Society
Box 27013 Grosvenor Park
Saskatoon, SK S7H 5N9