Bird Count Reports

Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count
September 12, 2020

by John Patterson

The weather was overcast and showery for much of the day, with some sectors wetter than others. The trying count conditions however, made for an abundance of migrants after an overnight fallout, and kept birds active for most of the day.

Due to Covid restrictions, some sectors had multiple teams or individuals in the field, rather than a single larger team as in previous years, with a commensurate increase in effort as measured by party hours. All counts in this narrative have been corrected for effort, so they are comparable between years. The counts in the accompanying tables are uncorrected.

The species count and total bird count were both at the high end of their historic ranges, although the latter was due entirely to abundant Canada Geese and Snow Geese. At 166, the species count has been exceeded only twice in the twenty-five years since 1995. While 55% of species had counts below their long-term average (LTA), deviations from the normal ranges were all on the high side. New high counts were set for twenty species, while there were no new lows.

All the grebes were below their LTA, with Western Grebe in particular, becoming hard to find. Prior to 2010 the count for Western Grebe averaged thirty-four, since then it has averaged five, and this year only one was recorded. American Coot has recovered somewhat from last year’s stunningly low count, but it is still far below the LTA (4%)1

A single Whooping Crane has been seen on three occasions, but this year for the first time, two were seen. The count for several other seldom-reported species, exceeded the combined count for the previous 25 years. In brackets are the 2020 count followed by the combined count for 1995-2019: Great-crested Flycatcher (2, 1), Eastern Bluebird (3, 1), Lark Sparrow (5, 4) and Gray-cheeked Thrush (11, 9). The other non-resident thrushes were also abundant with a new high for Hermit Thrush (660%) and a Swainson’s Thrush count (757%) that has been exceeded only once.

Among the raptors a new high was recorded for Turkey Vulture (325% of the average since 2002, when it was first seen). The count for Bald Eagle (303%) has been high recently, as the total for this year and last exceeded the count for the prior eight years, combined.

Counts for the common woodpeckers were uniformly high: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (357%), Downy Woodpecker (203%), and Hairy Woodpecker (191%). It has been hard to miss the abundance of Northern Flicker (226%) this year, which was confirmed on the count with a new high.

New highs for Common Raven have been recorded in each of the last two years as it continues to repopulate its’ former range.

Sparrows had a special significance for Frank Roy and he was always anxious to know if the local counts were showing evidence of decline. He would be pleased to know that the total sparrow count was the highest it has been since 1998. Only Chipping Sparrow (78%) and Spotted Towhee (40%) were below their LTA. Harris’s Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco are interesting cases. From 1995-2003 the count was held between Sep 15-21. Since then it has been held earlier: Sep 6-12. Both species are later migrants and their counts dropped dramatically when the date of the count was moved forward, but this year both species set new highs for the period 2004-2020.

It was an exceptional year for warblers with 19 species and 1772 individuals; totals that have been exceeded only once, in 1996. All-time highs were recorded for Nashville Warbler (422%), Mourning Warbler (821%) and Common Yellowthroat (308%). Thank you to all participants for your continued support of the SNS fall count.

1 Percentages in brackets represent the current year’s count as a percent of the long-term average since 1995, unless otherwise noted.

John Patterson

Saskatoon Nature Society

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Box 27013 Grosvenor Park
Saskatoon, SK S7H 5N9

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Box 27013 Grosvenor Park
Saskatoon, SK S7H 5N9