Bird Count Reports
Saskatoon Fall Migration Bird Count
by Craig Salisbury
Migrating birds face many challenges, not the least of which is the weather. Warm temperatures, clear skies and calm winds (or better yet, tail winds) are perfect conditions that enable birds to cover the most distance with the least expenditure of energy. Unsettled weather conditions with strong winds and precipitation force them to land, delaying migration until better conditions return. It should be no surprise then that while birds prefer mild weather during migration periods, bird watchers wish for rapidly moving cold fronts and rain (but only one day a week!).
In the week prior to this fall’s bird count, held September 10, the weather definitely favoured the birds. A stable weather system and unseasonably high temperatures meant many migrants passed overhead while we slept (most birds migrate at night).
The result was that only 37,992 birds were counted, about 9,000 less than the long-term average and the third lowest since 1995, when the fall count was moved from late August to mid-September. Despite the low numbers, 148 species were identified, just above the long-term average of 145 species. Two species were new to the fall count. Michael Williams’ team identified 2 Northern Shrikes, and Mike Gollop reported a Sedge Wren. This brings the total number of species seen since 1995 to 224.
Duck and geese numbers were average, despite low numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose (199) and Ross’s Goose (80). The most numerous species seen was the Snow Goose (5,903). Other waterfowl, such as Pied-billed, Horned, and Red-necked Grebes were present at above average numbers. A record 64 Horned Grebes were reported, eclipsing the previous record of 54 reported on last year’s count.
Grid roads were in better condition than they were last year, providing more access to lakes and sloughs, yet shorebird numbers were down by 40%. One exception was the sighting of 16 Marbled Godwits by Stan Shadick’s team, surpassing the previous record of 9 reported in 2006. That team also identified one Hudsonian Godwit, a rarer species that has only been recorded on 4 previous counts since 1995.
The numbers of jays, magpies and crows were down considerably from long-term averages, while raven numbers were up slightly. These members of the Corvidae family are known to be susceptible to West Nile virus, which may account, at least in part, for the declining numbers.
Robins were present in average numbers, but their cousins, the spotted thrushes, were noticeable by their absence. The only spotted thrushes reported were two Swainson’s Thrushes. Gray Catbirds and Brown Thrashers were reported in record numbers. Forty-seven catbirds were identified, exceeding the previous record of 41 set in 2008, and the 21 thrashers counted beat the record of 18, also set in 2008. Both are members of the Mimidae family, known for their complex songs and ability to mimic the calls and songs of other birds.
Sixteen species of warblers were identified, including Cape May and Connecticut Warblers, both considered rare species in our area. In total only 351 warblers were counted, the lowest number reported since 1995. Yellow-rumped Warblers accounted for almost 60% of the sightings.
Native sparrows were also reported in lower than average numbers. Swamp Sparrow, Harris’s Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco were each represented by only one individual.
Common Grackles (297) were present at almost twice the long-term average, while the number of Red-winged Blackbirds (163) was just above average. All other blackbird species numbers were significantly lower than the long-term averages.).
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