Bird Count Reports
Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count
by Robert Johanson
For the past five years, the Saskatoon Nature Society has held the annual fall bird count on the first Saturday after Labour Day, which for 2008 meant September 6, the earliest possible date. The weather was mainly fair in the morning and evening but scattered showers around midday dampened the spirits of many counters and made some roads impassable. Yet despite the rain, the results are impressive.
The number of species, 172, easily smashed the old record for a September count of 158 set just last year. Forty-three species had new high counts including seven species never before seen on a September count: Prairie Falcon, Western Wood-Peewee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, White-winged Crossbill, and Common Redpoll.
Forty-two species were reported by only one of the 18 teams that participated in the count, and 21 of those species were represented by a single bird. Although the total number of birds counted, 49,015, is close to average, many species that should have already left the area were seen in surprisingly large numbers. The reason seems to be a delay in the southward migration.
A remarkable number of flycatcher species were seen. True to their name, flycatchers feed on flying insects. Since a period of cold weather would deprive them of their food, flycatchers normally head south quite early, and typically only a couple species remain for the fall count. This year nine species were seen, including the four species noted above that were seen for the first time during a September count.
Swallows are another bird family that feed on the wing. Although some Barn Swallows stay into early September, the numbers this year were very high; 621 were counted. There were also good numbers and diversity of wood warblers; 19 species were identified — more than on some spring counts. The city teams actually did better than those working in the countryside. Seven of the warbler species were found only within the city.
Other species that should be rare on a fall count seemed to be everywhere such as Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers. Also consistent with a delayed migration was the relative scarcity of late-migrating, northern-nesting birds. The number of White-throated Sparrows fell well below those for the last two years.
Waterfowl do not need to migrate until the ponds and sloughs freeze over so ducks and geese are common well into October. Yet several seemed especially abundant with counts well above average. Particularly noteworthy are the 2,755 Ruddy Ducks counted. Another water bird, the American Coot, was the most abundant bird as it was two years ago; nearly 13,000 were counted.
Hawks also were well represented. Accipiters, woodland hawks that prey on other birds, were reported from all areas. New high counts occurred for Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Swainson’s hawks as well as the two small falcons, American Kestrel and Merlin. Adding to the list were two Prairie Falcons, both species of eagle, and a Rough-legged Hawk.
Best bird of the day goes to a Whooping Crane seen by Michael Williams’ team near Hanley amongst a flock of Sandhill Cranes. Whooping Cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America; only one wild flock exists numbering less than 250. Saskatchewan is fortunate to be on the flyway of this flock as they migrate between northern Alberta and the gulf coast of Texas. But Whooping Cranes normally don’t reach Saskatoon until late September. The individual seen is likely a sub-adult that isn’t old enough to mate, and so was able to begin migration earlier than the rest.
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