The Saskatoon Christmas Bird Count
December 26, 2000.
by Michael Williams
To the delight of our intrepid Christmas bird counters, the unseasonably cold mid-December weather gave way to near normal temperatures on Boxing Day. Most field observers reported relatively pleasant conditions, and except for the fact that birds were notably less abundant than last year, the count was an enjoyable one. This year, celebrating the 46th annual Saskatoon count, we counted 9,951 birds (down from 11,208 last year) representing 42 species, just two less than the record 44 set in 1998.
Although most species totals were less than last year, a few notable increases were recorded. We set new record high counts for black-capped chickadees (732), downy woodpeckers (46), and pine siskins (123). Two varied thrushes were present in the city, showing up at feeders in the College Park and Haultain neighbourhoods. Two Cooper's hawks were sighted, one at the Forestry Farm and one in Lakeview.
Other species showing increases over last year were common goldeneye (234), gray partridge (40), sharp-tailed grouse (67), common raven (48), and snow bunting (450). Pine grosbeaks (22) were scattered around rural areas, and generally not too difficult to find this year. Bohemian waxwings (311) were also more abundant, but only 7 were seen within the city limits. The big winter flocks that descend en masse onto the berry-laden mountain ash trees have yet to materialize this winter. Cedar waxwings (114) were well represented in rural and urban areas.
Other species have not fared so well. Decreases in the abundance of red-breasted nuthatches (73), northern flickers (14), American robins (10), house finches (192), and hairy woodpeckers (22) may be a reflection of the recent harsh weather, but could as easily be attributed to the chancy nature of the count.
More difficult to explain is the "crash" in the number of common redpolls. Last year we saw 2,252; this year we only counted 15, the lowest total since the Saskatoon counts began in 1955, except for a record low of 3 in 1970. This colourful little arctic finch is known to be erratic in its winter dispersal, so we cannot really draw any conclusions with regard to its low abundance this year.
Unusual birds seen in the count circle this winter include a brown-headed cowbird (present at a cowshed south of the city for the second year in a row), a rough-legged hawk, a short-eared owl, a common grackle, an American goldfinch (in winter plumage), and a spotted towhee.
Other species seen were: Canada goose (1), mallard (5), northern goshawk (1), merlin (1), rock dove (2,472), great horned owl (3), blue jay (63), black-billed magpie (732), white-breasted nuthatch (5), brown creeper (1), golden-crowned kinglet (1), European starling (5), white-throated sparrow (5), dark-eyed junco (9), and white-winged crossbill (7).
In addition to the 61 field observers, another 47 people acted as feeder watchers during the day, bringing the total participation to 108 Ð less than last year's 114, but still a remarkable demonstration of the interest and enthusiasm expressed by the citizens of this community.
Congratulations to all who made the Saskatoon count so successful.
I extend a special thank you to Bruce and Hilda Noton, who once again hosted a superb post count round-up at their home. The refreshments and the hospitality were a highlight of the day. Many thanks also to Marlene Kalanack, Margaret Koshinsky and Lois Wooding who assisted so capably with the data processing. My sincere best wishes to all, and may you continue to experience the delights of birding in the New Year.
Detailed summaries of count statistics for this count and the other local counts are available on request. Reports on the Clark's Crossing and Pike Lake counts will be presented in the February newsletter. Statistical summaries of all Saskatchewan counts are published in "Blue Jay", the provincial Society's quarterly publication.
Last revised: 7. January 2001.