Bird Count Reports
Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count
by Robert Johanson
For many years, the Saskatoon Nature Society’s fall bird count took place the last week of August, the peak time for migration in Saskatoon. In the mid-1990s, the count was moved to the third week in September to coincide with other counts taking place throughout North America. However, the late date meant that many migrants had already passed through Saskatoon. Two years ago, we switched the count to the second Saturday in September. A week earlier made a noticeable difference in the numbers and kinds of birds seen, but the results were hampered by poor weather. For this year’s count, the weather finally co-operated; a summer-like day resulted in much higher numbers of birds and more species seen than in the last two counts. The 46 participants tallied 59,622 birds of 147 species. That is the second highest number of birds seen since the count was moved to September, and the greatest number of species (by one).
By far, the most numerous species was the American Coot with over 19,000 counted, a new record for the fall count. Coots are black, duck-like birds with stubby, white bills; they are actually more closely related to rails than to ducks. The abundance of water made for ideal breeding conditions, and the Coots must have taken advantage of the situation. Every pond and slough had dozens.
Other birds seen in large numbers include the arctic nesting Snow Goose (6250), Canada Goose (2300), Ring-billed Gull (nearly 4600), Franklin’s Gull (over 2000), and Yellow-headed Blackbird (5600). The number for Yellow-heads is ten times higher than in any count in the last ten years due in part to the earlier date for this count. However, it also illustrates a difficulty with interpreting fall count results for some species. In the fall, certain birds gather in large flocks, blackbirds being a conspicuous example. Count numbers depend on finding those flocks which is often a matter of luck. As a result, large fluctuations are seen from one count to the next. A single team accounted for all but seven of the Yellow-heads seen this year. Had they not found the big flock, I would no doubt be commenting on the record low-numbers for blackbirds.
Duck numbers were mixed. Record numbers of Bufflehead and Ruddy Duck were seen, but most dabbling ducks numbers were below average. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the Coots. Good numbers of large hawks were seen including 71 Swainson’s Hawks, a record number for a September count. The pleasant weather likely contributed to the hawk sightings. Shorebirds are never well represented on a fall count since the peak in their migration is long past. The only shorebirds seen in any quantity were both species of Yellowlegs, American Avocet, Killdeer, and surprisingly one flock of Red-necked Phalarope that numbered 100 birds. A smattering of other shorebirds brought the number of species seen up to 16.
A good selection of warblers were seen, 18 species in all including the relatively rare for this area Connecticut and Chestnut-sided Warblers. As usual for a late fall count, Yellow-rumped Warblers were easily the most numerous, over four times the number of all the other warblers combined. White-throated Sparrows were quite numerous, especially in the city, as were Dark-eyed Juncos. Other fall sparrows, such as Harris’s and White-crowned Sparrows, and Lapland Longspur, hadn’t yet arrived. Many finches were seen especially House Finch (86, a new record high), Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch.
The only exceptionally rare bird sighted was a Townsend’s Solitaire. Uncommon birds included two American Bitterns, a Bald Eagle, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Nashville, Chestnut-sided and Connecticut Warblers.
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