Minden Christmas bird count reveals extraordinary results
By Ed Poropat, Special to the Times
The 52nd annual Minden Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, Dec. 15 in pleasant, mild, partly sunny conditions. The count area consists of a standardized 24km diameter circle, roughly centred on the village of Minden. The goal of the event is to count as many species and individuals within the circle in a 24-hour period. This data, when combined with the other 2,000-plus counts that occur in North America, provide invaluable information about bird movements and population trends.
As predicted, overall numbers were down this year due to the lack of seed crops across the region. Despite that, 24 field observers and 33 feeder watchers recorded a total of 45 different species within the count circle. This is about average in number over the past 10 years. The total number of individuals (3,089), however, was well below the 10 year average of 3,919 birds.
There were several highlights during this year’s count. A single adult Golden Eagle was observed near South Lake. These birds are rare winter visitors to the Haliburton region, not nearly as common as the Bald Eagle. Waterfowl were generally scarce this year due to the early freeze up. Despite this, a few interesting species lingered in the area. A Common Loon was observed fishing along the edge of the ice in Sandy Bay on Gull Lake. Also present were a lone Red-necked Grebe, and a drake Ring-necked Duck, both only the fifth ever recorded on the count. All of these birds usually depart in the late fall, heading to the open waters of Lake Ontario, or beyond.
The winter finches were well represented in 2018 but the numbers varied widely. With no cones available to feed on, Purple Finches were non-existent this year. The smaller finches such as Pine Siskins (1) and American Goldfinches (5) were quite rare also. A few Common Redpolls remained (21), but many simply flew through the county in search of a more consistent food supply, like birch catkins. Both Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, however, were present in good numbers. It’s nice to see decent numbers of Evening Grosbeaks (321) in the area, after many years of being quite scarce. A single Red Crossbill and only one Snow Bunting were recorded on count day. Sparrows such as American Tree Sparrow (6) and Dark-eyed Junco (11) were both rare this winter, again due to the lack of food in the woods.
Rock Pigeons seem to be doing well with a record count of 260 recorded. Also, more Barred Owls (4) seem to be around this winter, tying the previous record for the most seen in a day. They are appearing frequently around bird feeders, hunting for the rodents that come to feed on the fallen seeds. Lingering American Robins (2) seem to be surviving on the good crab apple crop this year. A Red-bellied Woodpecker observed in Minden was only the second ever recorded. This is a species that is steadily expanding its range in Ontario, so we expect to see more on future counts.
Two species were recorded this year on the count that had never been seen in the previous 51 years. A Long-eared Owl, a rare raptor in the region, was heard calling near Minden in the pre-dawn hours of the count. Even more exceptional was the hummingbird observed in Kinmount in the early morning by two field observers. The sighting was so remarkable, given the late date and cold early winter temperatures, that both were rightly skeptical of their split second observation. It simply couldn’t be!
Three days later, a feeder watcher on Davis Lake observed a female hummingbird hovering at her front window for about 10 seconds. How this bird managed to survive is a mystery. Was it roosting at night near a porchlight giving off ambient heat? Was it feeding on spiders, insects, old nectar in hummingbird feeders left outside after autumn passed? Whatever the story, that is one tough bird! Sadly, female hummingbirds are notoriously difficult to identify to species, especially without good photographs. At least 12 species breed in Canada/U.S.A., and other Mexican species also show up occasionally. Based on the description provided, this individual was likely a vagrant (not our typical Ruby-throated Hummingbird that is present during our summer). Previous records in Ontario during the late fall and winter also suggest this probability. Let’s hope this little gal found her way south to warmer climes.
Thanks so much to the many participants in this year’s Minden Christmas Bird Count. With your assistance, we continue to provide a snapshot of how healthy our bird populations are in Haliburton County, and across North America.