Bird Count Reports
Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count
by Robert Johanson
The Saskatoon Nature Society conducted its fall bird count on the second Saturday in September, the same weekend as last year but a week earlier than prior counts. Although the 40 participants were ready and willing to identify and count every bird, the weather did not cooperate. The day was cold, wet, and windy and the conditions deteriorated into the afternoon. A number of counters packed it in at midday not just because it was unpleasant out of doors but also many birds, particularly the small woodland birds, were not easy to locate – they prefer to roost deep in some shrubbery when it is windy and rainy.
Despite the difficulties, 39,252 birds were counted representing 134 species. The number of birds is actually up from last year’s count (when again the weather was less than ideal); the total was bolstered by large numbers of certain species of waterfowl, gulls and blackbirds. The number of species is the second lowest of the past 11 years. There were thirty unique species (seen by only one team), and in 13 of those cases the species was represented by just one individual.
During migration the mix of birds present in the Saskatoon area changes on a weekly basis. In the years when the count took place on the third weekend in September, the birds present in the largest numbers were the geese returning from their nesting grounds in the high arctic; we would typically count over 10,000. Having the count a week earlier resulted in much lower numbers of arctic geese – last year 1600 and this year only 400. The count also took place before the peak of the Sandhill Crane migration.
Northern sparrows such as White-throats, White-crowns and Lapland Longspurs also had not reached Saskatoon in significant numbers. But other species were present in numbers that would not be counted just a week later. Certain summer residents leave our area in mid-September and these species can go from common to scarce in just a few days. Notable in this regard are Black Terns; 50 were seen this year whereas at best only a couple were found when the count was done later in the month. Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Blue-winged Teal were three times as abundant on this count compared to the later ones.
Despite the conditions, counters identified 12 species of warbler and 13 species of sparrow. Most common were Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers as these are the latest warblers to migrate. House Finches arrived in Saskatoon 8 years ago and their numbers have steadily increased. However, only 21 were seen this year, down significantly from past years.
Also suffering declines were the Black-billed Magpie and American Crow, both were down about 70%. Again, the weather might be responsible for the low numbers or perhaps we are finally seeing an effect of the West Nile virus. Future counts will tell.
The only rarity discovered this year was a Townsend’s Solitaire at the Hillcrest cemetery. Solitaires are thrush-like birds that normally are found in British Columbia but wander in the winter. A few are seen in the Saskatoon area each year. One Bald Eagle was spotted braving the wind and heading down the river valley, and a late Baird’s Sparrow was also seen.
You can download the complete tabulated report below:
Saskatoon Nature Society
Connecting People and Nature
Saskatoon Nature Society
Box 448, RPO University
Saskatoon, SK S7N 4J8