This Spotted Towhee was one of three seen at a bird feeder at the bottom of Comer Street during the Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 15. (Phil Ranson photo submitted)

Annual Christmas Bird Count sees record numbers of field raptors tallied locally

There were no new species on the count this year and the final tally stands at 4,158 birds

The 2019 Christmas bird count was conducted by the Williams Lake Field Naturalists under near-ideal conditions on Sunday, Dec. 15.

Light winds and a mix of sun and cloud with airport temperatures showing steady at -7°C, kept things relatively comfortable for the 35 counters in the field.

There were no new species on the count this year and the final tally stands at 4,158 birds, about 300 less than the 10-year average, while the species number stood at 51, again slightly below average.

Any expectations for a bumper count had been tempered by the lack of the usual northern finches which can invade the area in winter and the seeming scarcity of Bohemian Waxwings which have boosted the numbers considerably in past years. Although there were a surprising number of Waxwings found (488), the forest finches, specifically the two species of Crossbill and Redpolls were no-shows, and others like the Pine Grosbeak and Pine Siskins were only seen in low numbers.

Read more: Drivers mindful of lone pheasant in downtown Horsefly

The big story of the count was the record numbers of field raptors headlined by a phenomenal 14 Northern Harriers. The best we’ve managed in the previous 51 counts was two. Red-tailed Hawk numbers were three better than the previous high of nine, and the arctic breeding Rough-legged Hawks also more than doubled their previous best with nine.

It can only be speculated that a combination of low snow cover, relatively mild weather and a healthy rodent population accounts for this increase.

Paradoxically, we didn’t see any owls which has happened only once before in the past 20 years and made all the more strange by the 10 to 12 Short-eared Owls reported from Riske Creek only a few days before.

Other count highs and part of a continuing trend were the five Spotted Towhees and 120 American Goldfinches. Towhees have only become regular on the count in the past decade, while Goldfinches have only occurred annually since 1999.

Another record high count was the 713 Rock Pigeons up from the previous high of 483. Woodpecker numbers have rebounded some from last year’s lows but Downy Woodpeckers are still well below normal. The 18 Steller’s Jays seemed like a surprising number but it was surpassed in the records by the 27 counted in 1995.

The WLFN would like to thank all the participants, especially those that travelled from out of town, and all the feeder watchers who phoned in their reports.

The total number of birds countered for each species are as follows:

1. American Wigeon: 2

2. Mallard: 148

3. Green-winged Teal: 6

4. Lesser Scaup: 1

5. Bufflehead: 2

6. Common Goldeneye: 21

7. Common Merganser: 1

8. Ruffed Grouse: 2

9. Pied-billed Grebe: 3

10. Rock Pigeon: 713

11. Eurasian Collared Dove: 19

12. Mourning Dove: 3

13. American Coot: 2

14. Bald Eagle: 23

15. Northern Harrier: 14

16. Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1

17. Northern Goshawk: 2

18. Red-tailed Hawk: 12

19. Rough-legged Hawk: 9

20. Golden Eagle: 3

21. Downy Woodpecker: 15

22. Hairy Woodpecker: 23

23: Three-toed Woodpecker: 1

24. Northern Flicker: 60

25. Pileated Woodpecker: 12

26. Northern Shrike: 2

27. Canada Jay: 20

28. Steller’s Jay: 18

29. Black-billed Magpie: 30

30. American Crow: 421

31. Common Raven: 323

32. Black-capped Chickadee: 260

33. Mountain Chickadee: 239

34. Red-breasted Nuthatch: 129

35. Brown Creeper: 8

36. American Dipper: 9

37. Golden-crowned Kinglet: 2

38. Townsend’s Solitaire: 23

39. American Robin: 3

40. European Starling: 96

41. Bohemian Waxwing: 488

42. House Sparrow: 392

43. Pine Grosbeak: 11

44. House Finch: 283

45. Pine Siskin: 30

46. American Goldfinch: 120

47. Spotted Towhee: 5

48. Song Sparrow: 29

49. Dark-eyed Junco: 101

50. White-throated Sparrow: 1

51. Red-winged Blackbird: 17

Total birds counted: 4,158

Total species counted: 51

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Phil Ranson is a member of the Williams Lake Field Naturalists

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