Bird Count Reports
Saskatoon Spring Migration Bird Count
May 30, 2020
by John Patterson
The conduct of the count this year was unique. Social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that car-pooling was not an option, so we had more counting done by individuals and family groups rather than the traditional teams. With many more counting “units”, the effort as measured by party hours was the highest it has ever been: 276 hours vs a long-term average (LTA) of 177 hours. To make meaningful comparisons to the counts of previous years, counts in this narrative have been corrected for effort. The counts in the table are uncorrected. Figures in brackets below are the 2020 corrected count for the species as a percent of the LTA since 1985.
With so many more groups out in the field it is not surprising that the 184 species observed was the highest recorded since 2002. A new species was added this year to the all-time list for the Spring Count, as Caspian Tern was reported for the first time.
The relatively abundant dabbling ducks have traditionally not been fully counted, so year to year comparisons can’t be made, but for the less abundant dabbling ducks and the diving ducks the counts have been complete, or nearly so. The count for Northern Pintail (21%) set a new low. Among the small diving ducks, Ruddy Duck (16%) and Bufflehead (211%) are trending in opposite directions. The Bufflehead count has increased for three years running, while the Ruddy Duck count has declined for four straight years to a new low.
Water levels in sloughs and potholes were low enough to provide ample shoreline habitat for shorebirds, but despite this shorebird numbers were quite uniformly below average. Several of the grebes and rails were far below their LTAs, especially Pied-billed Grebe (13%), Horned Grebe (27%), Eared Grebe (36%) and American Coot (11%). This is the second year in a row that Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot have been very scarce. Western Grebe (11%) which prefers larger and deeper water bodies was also present only in small numbers as it has been for several years now. Bucking the downward trend was Red-necked Grebe (203%).
The count for Black-crowned Night-Heron (286%) continued strong thanks to the nesting colony at Porter Lake, but another colonial species, Franklin’s Gull (5%), posted an exceptionally low count for the second year in a row.
Common Raven (459%) reached a new high this year as it continues to reoccupy its traditional breeding territory. And urban-adapted species such as Black-capped Chickadee (268%), Red-breasted Nuthatch (353%), Blue Jay (360%) and House Sparrow (255%) are all far above their LTAs, as the footprints of Saskatoon, Warman and Martensville continue to grow. Flycatcher numbers were encouraging: Least Flycatcher (116%), Eastern Phoebe (190%) and Eastern Kingbird (174%).
Horned Lark (26%) numbers are rebounding, having increased for the fifth straight year, but remain far below the LTA. Another species that seems to be making a modest recovery is the Yellow-breasted Chat (382%). It went unreported for 22 years (1994-2015). Numbers are still low, but multiple individuals have been found in 4 of the last 5 years.
At 13, the number of warbler species observed matched the LTA, but with the late date for the count, most of the migratory species were present only in small numbers.
Saskatoon Nature Society
Connecting People and Nature
Saskatoon Nature Society
Box 27013 Grosvenor Park
Saskatoon, SK S7H 5N9