20 December 2014
Prior to to the turn of the twentieth century it was an established tradition for people in the United States to engage in the "Christmas Side Hunt."This involved dividing up a Christmas gathering into sides and going out with their guns to shoot whatever moved or flew. The party that brought in the biggest pile won the contest.
An incipient conservation movement was taking hold, and many participants were becoming uneasy about this wanton slaughter, especially in light of declining populations of birds and other wildlife.
On Christmas Day 1900, Frank M. Chapman, the distinguished American ornithologist, proposed that people should go afield and simply count the birds, rather than shooting them. Thus began the nascent annual Christmas Bird Count which now involves people concerned with birds, from not only the North American continent, but in many other locations around the world.
The combined data from all the counts, consolidated by the Audubon Society, has become an important source of data on bird populations and trends, and is one of the very early examples of what is now known as citizen science.
I have taken part in many CBCs over a lot of years, and Miriam and I were looking forward to doing the first of the two counts we do in this area.
The whole territory covered by the count is split into various groups each having a leader, a team captain so to speak. For our party, Michelle Tomins has filled this function for many years and does an absolutely splendid job. No participants are ever better prepared by their leader than we are by Michelle.
Here is our happy group before setting out into our territories.
|Michelle Tomins, Janet Ozaruk, Miriam Bauman, John Tomins|
|Michelle Tomins, Janet Ozaruk, Miriam Bauman, David Gascoigne|
Michelle organizes a system whereby we drive our cars and park one vehicle at the Otterbein Parking Area along the Grand River Trail, which will be the point at which we will end our walk along the river, a distance of about 3.5 kilometres from our point of origin. At this location there was a large concentration of ducks and geese on the water, so we mentally created a line of divide, and our two respective parties counted on either side of the imaginary line so that we would avoid duplication. At each area covered I will give the list of species we saw in the order in which we first saw them, not in taxonomic sequence. In brackets I will also state the number of individuals recorded there.
Species: Common Merganser (1), Mallard (29), Canada Goose (2), Common Goldeneye (4) Gull, sp. (2), Herring Gull (2).
|Common Goldeneye, male|
Having left our vehicle, we all got into John's car to drive to the Woolner Parking area, from where we would begin our walk, John and Michelle going in one direction from that parking area, Miriam, Janet and I heading off in the opposite direction.
Along the way we stopped to check out a house with a variety of bird feeders; a predictably productive spot in years past. Today the activity was sparse.
Species: House Sparrow (13), Blue Jay (1), Black-capped Chickadee (1), Northern Cardinal (1).
|View along the trail|
At 08:37 we bade farewell for the moment to John and Michelle as they headed off to do their count and we commenced ours. The trail, known as the Grand River Trail, or alternatively the Walter Bean Trail, pretty much hugs the bank of the river and meanders through an area of hardwood forest.
In contrast to previous years, it was tough to find birds, and the number of species seen, and the number of individuals counted was less than normal. I have no explanation why, but we would later find that other parties experienced the same phenomenon.
It was a pleasant day, warm for the time of year, with the temperature getting up to around 0°C, by noon.
This Northern Cardinal was bathed in bright sunlight at the top of a tree.
The view along the river is pleasant at any time of year, and today we were treated to several splendid vistas.
For most of the way I followed Miriam and Janet as we made our way along the trail.
When the leaves are off the trees it is easy to spot interesting features that might easily be missed when concealed from view by the luxuriant foliage of spring and summer. So it was with this nest of a Baltimore Oriole which would have been a place of great activity just a few short months ago.
There was lots of ice on the water, and little floes were moving down river on the current at a rapid clip. When the sun was shining the ice sparkled and it was really quite magical. It was also really pleasing to listen to the sounds the ice made as floes jostled each other, and scraped along the build up at the bank.
To no one's surprise evidence of beaver activity was commonly seen, many trees having been felled by these industrious rodents.
I guess that a little snack of bark seemed appealing to Janet.
American Herring Gull was the most common gull along the river, although gull sightings were pretty sparse overall.
Here is another shot of the river.
Common Mergansers were seen quite frequently, but they were skittish and seem to fly at the slightest provocation; indeed, without provocation at all! I was happy to get this shot of a female on the far bank with a few male Mallards.
At the end of our walk, before getting back into the car, we sat down for what we felt was a well-earned rest, and Janet produced a bag of dried fruit and (kind soul that she is) shared with Miriam and me. It was delicious and just the little infusion of energy that we needed.
Species: Black-capped Chickadee (12), Canada Goose (234), American Herring Gull (6), Gull, sp. (3), Mallard (311), Northern Cardinal (1), American Crow (1), Buteo, sp. (1), American Goldfinch (3), White-breasted Nuthatch (1), American Black Duck (7), Common Goldeneye 35), Common Merganser (9).
Our next stop was at Forfar Park, a small island in a sea of housing, but a location that has traditionally been worthy of checking and has from time to time yielded rarities. Today the activity was muted, but several species were recorded, including this lone American Tree Sparrow, determined not to come out and pose for a picture!
Species: House Sparrow (8), American Crow (4), American Goldfinch (2), House Finch (16), Black-capped Chickadee (3), Downy Woodpecker (2), Blue Jay (1), Dark-eyed Junco (2), Northern Cardinal (2), Cooper's Hawk (1), White-breasted Nuthatch (1), American Tree Sparrow (1), Common Starling (1), Mourning Dove (1).
Janet could only be with us until noon so it was time to return her to her car. It was a delight to have had Janet along with us; she was an exquisite companion.
Miriam and I then went to meet John and Michelle at a Swiss Chalet restaurant for lunch. It was great to shed a few layers for a while and sit in the warmth and eat. Traditionally, Miriam and I have made sandwiches at home and have eaten in the car, but I think that Swiss Chalet may become a new tradition!
After lunch we went to Kolb Park, where as had been the case all day, bird life was minimal. However, we did see what became the bird of the day, a male Northern Pintail.
Pintails are decidedly uncommon so late in the year and we needed to fill out a rare bird report for this species.
Once again there was ample evidence of the work of beavers and this winter storage gave away the location of the lodge.
Species: Black-capped Chickadee (3), Common Goldeneye (1), Canada Goose (164), Mallard (97), Northern Pintail (1), American Black Duck (3), American Herring Gull (1), Northern Cardinal (2).
Our final stop was at Blue Springs where the birds were totally absent. We saw but two species and this was right as we were leaving. It was well past 15:00 by now and my right knee was giving me a little grief (old age creeping up on me I guess) so we decided to call it a day.
Species: American Crow (2), American Goldfinch (1).
After each Christmas Bird Count there is a wrap up dinner hosted by one of the participants and everyone takes along something to add to the wide variety of food that always seems to be available. This year's event was hosted by Peter Coo and Dawn Miles, and we are very grateful for their fine hospitality. I had intended to take my camera to record some of the festivities, but I forgot to do so, so you'll have to imagine what it was like. The pictures will have to wait until next time!