Numbers down for annual bird count
Thursday, Jan 05, 2017 06:00 am
Christmas is for the birds – but this year’s bitterly cold weather and lack of food for seed eating birds meant numbers were significantly down during the annual Banff-Canmore Christmas bird count.
During the 42nd annual event organized by Bow Valley Naturalists on Dec. 17, a record 83 participants counted 37 different species, compared to 49 species last year and the long-term average of 43.
The number of individual birds in the 2016 count was definitely on the lower end at 1,854, compared to 4,581 the previous year, which was one of the highest in the previous two decades.
Local birders say there are not a lot of cones on spruce trees for seedeaters to dine on, noting the previous year was great for seedeaters overall, with numerous red-breasted nuthatches, pine grosbeaks and pine siskins spotted.
“With this lack of food, the birds just aren’t there,” said Heather Dempsey, one of the organizers of the annual count.
Bitterly cold temperatures also played a big part in the lower number of birds spotted, with Dempsey noting the high for the day was -17 C, with a consistent wind chill factor of about -27 C all day.
“We haven’t had a count as cold as this for a while,” she said. “Overall, we spent over 100 hours looking between us and covered over 200 kilometres on foot and 133 kilometres by car. Can’t say we didn’t try.”
In addition to the 37 species this year, a great horned owl was seen during count week.
This was the second lowest number of species since Bow Valley Naturalists started this count in 1975. The lowest was 36 in 2008 and 1989. The all-time high was 54 species during the 2003 count.
Over the years, there have been rare bird sightings recorded during the count, such as a King Eider spotted at Lake Minnewanka in 2005. It was the first time the large duck of Arctic coastal waters had been seen in Alberta since 1894.
Dempsey said there was nothing too unusual this year, but noted there were lots of single bird sightings, for example one snipe, one Pygmy owl at Bow Falls and one Steller’s jay.
“We usually get one (Steller’s jay), and this year it was on the CPR tracks along the river towards Canmore,” she said.
As the weather started to warm up in the days following the count, Dempsey said people let her know that many birds missed in the count ended up being spotted.
She said two snow buntings were seen near Vermilion Lakes on Christmas Day; birds which haven’t been seen otherwise at this time of year.
“There are definitely more birds out there,” she said.
The Banff-Canmore count circle has its centre on the Bow River below Mount Rundle so as to include the Town of Banff west to Vermilion Lakes, and the Town of Canmore east to the Trans-Canada/Highway 1A interchange.