White-throated sparrows were among the birds counted in the Christmas bird count.

White-throated sparrows were among the birds counted in the Christmas bird count.

Mild conditions for annual Christmas bird count

The Williams Lake Field Naturalists held their 47th annual Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 14.

The Williams Lake Field Naturalists held their 47th annual Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014 under moderate conditions with a light snow early on, then temperatures at valley bottom warming up to about zero.

With 40 field participants covering 20 routes, the total count was surprisingly low with only 3,096 birds comprised of 46 species.

This is the lowest number of birds since 2002 and four species below the 20-year average.

Undoubtedly the heavy snow and deep freeze of early December cleared out many of the lingering birds but this void is often filled by the arrival of the northern finches which wasn’t the case this year.

This wasn’t a local phenomenon, however, with many other counts in the Interior experiencing similar results.

Bird populations can be cyclic and fluctuate widely year to year based on weather, food supply, breeding success and probably several factors which we are not aware of, so too much shouldn’t be read into a single year’s count.

Bohemian Waxwing numbers alone can double the size of the count and estimates in early December around Williams Lake ranged between 2,000 and 4,000 birds.

By count day, the mountain ash berry supply was mostly depleted and the birds had moved on and only 114 were recorded on Dec. 14.

Unusual this year was that there were very few unusual or unexpected birds which will add interest and often excitement to the count.

The few exceptions were three Rusty Blackbirds, which are designated as a species of special concern in Canada, found in Chimney Valley. This is only the third time they have appeared on the count.

Also a little unusual and could very easily have been missed, were a family of three adult and two juvenile Trumpeter Swans in flight south of the airport.

As with just about every count, there are always some species that appear in record numbers despite the overall results; Northern Flickers have been showing a more or less consistent increase over the term of the count and this year’s total of 68 was well above last year’s previous high of 50 birds. The numbers  of Gray Jays, sometimes called ‘Canada Jay’ or ‘Camp Robber,’  fluctuate widely year to year but this year’s total matched the previous high of 31 set in 1987.

One of our more spectacular raptors, the Golden Eagle, is never a common species and the four birds seen along the Fraser River is one better than the previous high set in 2000 and 2007.

Another bird that is increasing not only on the count but also as a breeding species in the region is the White-throated Sparrow.

Seldom observed west of the Rockies 50 years ago, this dapper little sparrow with the instantly recognizable song was found at feeders at Scout Island, N. Lakeside and at Terra Ridge.

For the complete breakdown on bird numbers spotted turn to Page A16.