Last time, I wrote about how I cope with the long days of winter, so this time I thought I’d give you some ‘birdy’ ideas as to what you might do!
You will recall the Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) are an annual event that encourages us to get outdoors, in a specified area, on specified dates, to find as many kinds and numbers of birds possible on that day. Sponsored in part by Bird Studies Canada, thousands of counts are run every year across the world.
This marks the 118th year these counts have been done, starting in 1899, when “counting” meant shooting as many of the birds as possible! It’s way better now, since we actually do count them and then let them live!
Locally there are counts in Uxbridge on December 27th and Beaverton on December 30th. Other nearby counts include Pickering and Oshawa, so lots of opportunities exist for you to become as involved as you like. Can’t make those dates? Well there are many others to choose from, during the period of December 14th to January 5th, inclusive. And NO, you don’t have to be a bird expert.
Each group will have experienced birdwatchers leading it. All you have to do is show up, spot birds, and have fun!
Each count takes place in an established 15 mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Count volunteers follow specified routes through the designated circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.
Have mobility issues or just don’t want to go outdoors? If your home is within the boundaries of a CBC circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your bird feeder on the count day, as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler. Check out this website for more information: http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count
Another great way to help out is to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is an annual event that runs for a short period of time, on February 16th to 19th, in 2018, and you register online, at http://mailchi.mp/cornell/gbbc-enews-countdown-to-the-2018-great-backyard-bird-count?bblinkid=73514654&bbemailid=6148672&bbejrid=473157895 and then you’re in.
Simply watch birds at a location you choose, not necessarily your backyard by the way, for 15 minutes or more during that time period and enter your sightings online or via your phone. Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like; one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period. That’s all!
Last year, 29,574,634 individual birds were reported worldwide, with 181,299 checklists entered, representing 6,240 species of birds … incredible, that’s half of all the species in the world. Wow!
Okay, still not enough for you? How about joining Project FeederWatch, run by Bird Studies Canada, from November to early April. You can spend as much or as little time as you like counting birds, but you do it at your own home. The schedule is completely flexible. You set the pace, you do as much or as little as you want, but, you do need to work a bit, as your data has to be entered online and you do have to spend time periodically monitoring what’s coming to your feeders and when.
What happens to the information we collect? The data is stored electronically and made available to Citizen Scientists and researchers across the globe. Myriad projects rely on this data as a historical foundation, for assessing the health of specific species and the environment.
So there you have it. Lots of choices whereby you can both amuse yourself and do something good for nature at the same time. Before you know it, winter will be over and we can start enjoying our returning migrants. I hope you all have a fun and wildlife-filled Christmas and winter!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Every year about this time, I start what is known as a winter bird list that runs from December 1st to the last day of February. The goal is simple; find as many species as possible during this coldest part of the year. But why? Well, it is to document what can be found in Ontario during these freezing months and it’s a means to get through the long dark days of winter!
Before I tell you a bit about past successes, let me share why unexpected or lingering birds hang around when the conditions will assuredly be toughest?
Generally, one of three things causes these birds to risk death. Either they are injured or sick and can’t leave; or weather conditions, such as persistent strong southerly winds, move them here inadvertently; or they get misdirected on their way south and head eastward instead of going towards the tropics. In any case, they generally are doomed as food is scarce and will become more so as the months progress.
One interesting and uncommon phenomenon takes place in a small woodlot in Oakville, called Sedgewick Park, that annually attracts several species of warblers and vireos, all of which should have migrated to the tropics by December 1st. The attraction here is a plentiful food supply of midges, due to the sewage plant located immediately adjacent to the park. Eventually, the midges die off and the food runs out in mid-January, so all these birds perish, but in the interim birdwatchers have a chance to study these birds at their leisure.
Over the years, I’ve personally found 266 species of wintering birds in Ontario. Included on my list are: the super rare Yellow-billed Loon, and 41 kinds of ducks, geese and swans. Hawks and eagles are well-represented by 15 species, and 20 species of gulls have been recorded. Surprisingly, since they rely exclusively on insect prey, I have found 18 species of shorebirds in the winter.
Rare finds from Canada’s east coast were a Thick-billed Murre in 2013 and a Razorbill in 2006. Other rarities included the White-winged Dove from the south and the Band-tailed Pigeon from the Rockies. I once even had a budgie in January and twice I had a Rufous Hummingbird?! Nine kinds each, of owls, is a good count, but unexpected was a very rare Gray Flycatcher, one of only a couple of records for any time of year for Ontario, which showed up in late December 1994.
Then, in 2015, a Vermillion Flycatcher, from the southwest U.S. desert, stayed for several weeks. Five kinds of wrens and 8 thrushes, including Ontario’s rarest thrush, a Fieldfare from Europe, graced my list. Amazingly, I have seen two very rare desert-dwelling Phainopeplas, which are closely related to our waxwings. Additionally, I have seen 21 species of warblers, vireos and tanagers over the years. Every one of these is dependent on insects for food, so it is surprising to have seen so many different kinds.
Rounding out the list are 29 kinds of sparrows, including a European Brambling, 10 kinds of orioles and blackbirds, and 12 finches. The diversity is quite unexpected, and for me it has been a refreshing adventure that helps me cope.
The sad part is knowing, pretty much any insect-dependent species that lingers in the cold will perish. But on a happier note, most of the others will do just fine and can easily handle the cold and snow, if they can find sufficient food and shelter. So if you’re having trouble dealing with winter, give winter listing a try and see how many kinds of birds you can find.
Check out North Durham Nature’s website for some opportunities, such as Christmas Bird Counts, to help find local wintering birds, at www.northdurhamnature.com. Uxbridge’s is on December 27th and Beaverton’s December 30th.
On another note: I am guiding a birding trip to Colombia, in January 2018, and two of the participants had to drop out unexpectedly, so if any of you are interested in truly escaping the cold and want to join me in Colombia, where we will see about 500 species of birds, mammals and more, please let me know right away, at email@example.com, and I’ll send details on cost and the itinerary.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, and on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.