2020 Nature Moncton CBC
Report compiled by Roger Leblanc
2020 will have been a memorable year for many bad reasons. But for our Christmas Bird Count it turned out to be quite the contrary. In fact for the Moncton CBC it has been a record setting year. With 62 species reported on count day and 2 additional species for count week, 15 784 individual birds and a much higher number of “rare ones” than usual (for details see below and the attached complete list) it was outstanding. Based on the 60 years I have records for (starting in 1961) it was our best showing ever. Up to now, our record had been 60 species in 1993, 95 and 99 and the average would be around 50. Now, as December drew near, our region was, as the rest of the province, country and planet in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that effected many aspects of our life and in particular our options for moving around and getting together with other people; two important components of a Christmas Bird Count. Some might have even taught that we should just jump this year. But instead we decided to go ahead leaving team leaders in charge of respecting all sanitary regulations and sadly having to forgo our traditional get together/ tally up at the end of the day. That part was really missed by all but will be back next year. Still it did not seem to bother the birds much. With 25 participants (a bit under average) in 13 field parties + 21 feeder watchers (thanks Susan) the circle was well covered. The very mild weather was certainly a plus factor. With the mercury hovering around -2c with very light winds and almost no precipitations on the day of the count, conditions were great to be out and about and all together we put in 89 hours in the field with 59 km on foot and 720 by car. It should also be noted that the weather had been exceptionally good up to that date. And this certainly helped some species stick around in high numbers and some rare visitors survive. Here are some highlights and musings which are based on the now 60 years of records I can study and for which we should be quite thankful to David Christie who has been for decades the keeper of CBC records not only for our count but for the province in general. This year I opted for a quite detailed report that for sure is also on the “record” side but hey we all have lots more time on our hand these days. So here goes.
This section is in taxonomic order and mainly about noticeable variations with “regulars”. I will come back later to “rare birds”, “one offs” and “missing” species later. Also to keep this already long report to a manageable size I will not name names but if you are reading this and participated you will recognize your contributions. Be assured they are greatly appreciated.
Geese and ducks:
At 890 Canada Geese were at their highest ever. Their next “best” had been 667 in 2017. This is probably explained by the mild weather and lack of ice on the ground that we experienced up to the 19th. Since they mainly eat vegetation and roots, once the earth freezes over and/or is covered by snow they have to move. But this year that was not the case and it has continued up to very recently. Some could still be seen in good numbers around the river just days ago. Flocks of geese around here in February, is something I have never experienced before. Curiously Black Ducks were low at 28. But Mallards were also relatively low at 541. One possible explanation is that they were just more spread out because of the same “good” conditions, and not being as concentrated they were also not so easy to count in high numbers. We also had two very “good” species in this group but more on that later.
Pheasants and Grouses:
Pheasants were a little low at 35 but they do fluctuate greatly from year to year and I would consider this average. On the other hand, just one Ruffed Grouse, was very low and to close for comfort to one of those rare “no grouse” years. But we did get two Spruce Grouse at a feeder. This is only the fourth time this species has been noted on the Moncton CBC. And would it not be in 2020 that we would count more Spruce than Ruffed Grouses on the count?
With 6 species on count day and one more for count week (Northern Goshawk) I would say raptors were pretty well average. The only note I would add is that after very high number in 2016, 17 and 19 (91,102,113) Bald eagles at 64 are back at an average since the start of their big come back in the eighties. Why? That’s a very good question. Possibly it’s weather related but also changes at the Waste Management Site (where the lion’s share are counted) or with the river eco system due to the bridge building might be at play. But who knows for sure?
Ah! the gulls. Some love them while others fear them (well at least trying to ID them). But one thing is sure; they represent a big chunk of the birds we see around here in December. For instance with 3343 individuals of 6 species, they represent about 25 percent of the individual birds that were reported this year. But as high as it seems that number has been trending down in the last decades. And the possibility to verify that is a good example of why CBCs are important. The next question would be why. But the answer to that would take way longer than this format can suffer. Suffice it to say that general continental trends and probably local weather, habitat and feeding behavior are probably part of the answer. At the species level nothing much to note other than at 7 individuals it was a good showing for Glaucous Gull. This number is higher than all but two other years since 2000.
Pigeon, doves and owls:
For the first two the numbers this year were pretty much average. For owls it’s always nice to have reports cause other than Short-eared the rest of the crew are mostly night hunters and most of us are too lazy (put me at the front of that pack) to go out counting at night so we just don’t get them often even if they are clearly present. That being said, getting 2 Great Horned Owls (both heard) was very nice, It represented only the tenth time on our CBC list for that species. Now Short-eared Owls, which surprisingly (since they do hunt in daylight) have not been reported more then 9 times in the last 60 years reached this year their highest total ever with 8 individuals which is 4 times more then the precedent high of 2.
Downy and Hairy numbers were quite high this year and at respectively 50 and 53 they were flirting with the highest ever (60 in 1997 for Downy and 65 in 1994 for Hairy). But the prize goes to that Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder that with its presence made it only the sixth time for our CBC in 60 years. More on it later.
For this group, known for its intelligence and fascinating behaviors, I have only a couple of notes. First it was very nice to have 2 Canada Jays found as it had been a couple of years since we had them. Otherwise, while Crow and Raven were well within the normal variations of their reported numbers, this was the best year ever for Blue Jays with 307. The highest before that had been 275 in 2014. Maybe the better feeders coverage that we managed this year is part of the reason why but for those who think that the higher presence of this species, favored by feeders, is a bad thing, this might sound an alarmed (they are known to be predators of eggs and chicks of other species) but let’s keep that discussion for an other time and place.
Chickadees, Nuthatches, Creepers and Kinglets:
For our provincial bird Black-capped Chickadee, this was a bit of an over average year. They do vary some from year to year but 753 is on the higher side. The highest number ever was 1116 in 96. Again this year we missed out on Boreal Chickadee and that makes for a sad anniversary. It’s now been 10 years since we had one on the count. Something is not right with that species for sure. As for Nuthatches, red breasted at 79 were kind of on the up side of their normal up /down cycle. But the big news is the largest ever number of White-breasted Nuthatch. At 24 they were more then double their previous record of 11 in 2003. Again a better coverage from feeders could be at play but also we had been seeing many more than normal of these in the field since the fall so there is clearly something else happening there. As for Brown Creepers we never get a ton but at least that one individual kept us from being shutout. Finally Golden-crowned Kinglets at 38 were also on the high side of a cycle and just for the fun of it, exactly at the same number as last year.
Robins, Starlings and Waxwings:
Robins do vary a lot from year to year depending on weather condition so at 20 I would say they were “normal” this year. As for our “beloved” Starlings, at 3378 this year (yes the highest number of individuals of a species on the count youhou!!!) they made it to the number 3 spot ever for that species. Number 1 and 2 were 3744 in 2016 and 3450 in 2001. That should make a lot of you happy I am sure J. As for Waxwings, Bohemians were on the high side at 491 but nowhere near the record of 1018 in 2008. As for cedar well they do vary from a couple to none at all on our CBC but at 33 they were at their second highest since we hit 41 in 2000. I would also note, on a personal basis, that I find that these have been much more present on their own or within groups of Bohemian in winter in recent years. Is this just my bias or something of a trend? Again on that front CBC results might help us figure it out on the long run.
With the good weather conditions we had in November and at the start of December you could have hoped (I sure did) that more warblers would have stuck around but if they did they were discreet. Only the more expect Pine Warbler was recorded. Still at 3 their numbers matched only one other year way back in 1980, both being only second to last year’s impressive 4.
Our total sparrow crop was pretty good at 6 species (that lone Swamp in the field and Chipping at a feeder were a great help) but what sticks out is the number for Song. At 19 it makes it to the number 3 spot in 60 years. It was only lower then 20 in 1984 and 25 in 1976. So that makes it the highest in the last 37 years.
Snow Buntings to Grosbeaks:
Snow buntings were low at 15. And one has to wonder where are the years of plenty like in 1980 when they had 3218 or 1985 when an incredible 4720 were reported. Now this species does vary greatly form year to year presumably in relation to breeding conditions up North. But numbers in the 4 digits makes you want to jump in a time machine. Must have been quite the show. And this brings us to Northern Cardinal. The story their numbers tell is also a great example of how CBC data can help us understand the life of birds and expansion of species. This species was never reported on our CBC form 1961 to 1989. Then in 1990 there was one. Then after a pause of a couple of years in 1995 there were a stunning 7. Than one or two pretty much every year or second year (except from 2007 to 2011 when there were none). And now in 2020 we had 19 so almost 3 time the highest ever before that. So what’s up with those beauties? Clearly here again our better coverage of feeders helped us get a clearer picture with 12 coming from that source alone. But these results, in my opinion, also confirm a trend that many have been noticing; there are more Cardinals in the city recently. And that is something that those that are lucky enough to have them around will certainly not regret. In the same vein one feeder report brought us the only two Grackles for the count this year helping us to our record overhaul total. Finally Pine Grosbeak at 63 was about average with an impressive 379 in 1997 being the highest ever.
This was supposed to be a good finch year from what people who study these things were saying and it was exactly that at least for some species. Purple Finches at 45 hit the number 4 spot ever with only 60 in 1964 then 51 in 1993 and a whooping 103 in 1994 being higher. House Finch at 62 seems to be back on an up curve after showing declines for the last two decades. But we are still far from the high of 401 in 2000. Next to Common Redpolls. This year, contrary to several recent years they decided to live up to their name and were quite “common” in fact. At 1185 it makes 2020 the year were we had the second most, surpassed only by 1993 when we counted1496. On to Pine Siskins of which we tallied 60 which would place this year in fifth place. 2012 with 111 was the highest ever for this species. Finally Evening Grosbeak made also a good show with 802 coming in at #3 compared to 1040 in 1986 and 1683 in 1991. Can’t remember but sure hope seeds were cheaper back then.
The rare ones:
So that rounds up my general observations for the count this year. But as we all know what really gets our hearts “a pumping” are those “rare ones”. On that front 2020 was surely a banner year with 7, yes 7 birds that can surely be considered rare for the count since they had all been seen less then 5 times in 59 years on the Moncton CBC. We generally feel lucky if we get one or two of those but seven is clearly more than I can ever remember showing up. And we did also get a “very rare” one for count week. Here they are in increasing order of rarity. First there were two species that had only been seen 5 times before but showed up on the 19th at feeders and so will leave our “getting to five “ list to join more common species on our regular list. These were that Red-bellied Woodpecker and an Eastern Towhee. Both had been reported at those feeders in days before so we were praying that they would show on the 19th. Someone must have had better contacts than me on that side because it sure did work. Next there were 3 species that had only been seen 3 times before on the count. The first was Spruce Grouse. This species is obviously present but can be hard to find. With 2 at feeders we added them for just a forth time to our CBC list. Then there was a Hoary Redpoll spotted in a flock of Common Redpoll. With also just a fourth showing it is obviously rare but when we have invasion years of Common Redpoll is the time to go looking for them mixed in with flocks of those. Finally 3 American Wigeon also represented only a fourth presence for that species. They (or some of the same) had also been reported in the days/ week before the count and again the weather surely helps them find open water to stick around. Next there were two species that had only been seen 2 times before on our CBC. First there was a Carolina Wren reported at a feeder. That species may have made it to the list for only the third time but something tells me it could very well become more common in winters to come with the effect of climate change. We also got a Hermit Thrush for only the third time but the fact that we also got one last year tells me that it probably will be noted also more often in the future for the same reason. One thing for sure the mild weather we had this fall and since the start of December surely helped that one stick around (feeders not being a factor for it). Finally we did get a very rare one and first for the list on count week. That Cackling Goose that had been reported earlier in December could not be found on count day (or reported after it) but the gentleman who feeds that flock of geese did report seeing it during count week. Now the review of this bird by the NB Bird Record Committee is still pending (a released from captivity is always possible but doubtful in my book) but for now it should at least get me an inquiry from the regional compiler since it could very well be the only one reported in the Atlantic region if not more.
Now there are some other species that while not being necessarily rare can easily not be seen on the day of the count. Here is a list of those for which just one individual was seen or if more than one just the one flock or individuals in one spot: Ruffed grouse, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser-Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Brown Creeper, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Snow Bunting, Common Grackle, House Sparrow. Many of these are usual suspects for this category and we are always happy when at least one individual or flock can be spotted.
The others that keep me awake at night (well maybe not but you get my drift) are those that are really hit or miss because in so low and/ or declining numbers. Of those in 20202 we missed Cooper’s Hawk, Flicker, Northern Shrike, Boreal Chickadee and Northern Mockingbird.
All in all:
So all in all we did do pretty well and for that I must really send out a big THANK YOU to all field participants and feeder watchers. You were great. And expect to hear form me again next year. Now before I finish I should also offer all my appreciation to Susan Atkinson for her great work promoting and compiling those feeder reports. We did miss out on your excellent fricot this year Susan but don’t forget the recipes cause for sure will be back for more of it next year.
Thanks again, see you all next year and good birding.
Roger Leblanc, compiler for the Moncton CBC
Moncton CBC 19/12/2020 count list
Canada Goose 890
American Black Duck 28
Ring-necked Pheasant 35
Ruffed Grouse 1
Bald Eagle 64
Northern Harrier 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 1735
Iceland Gull 291
Lesser Black-backed Gull 2
Glaucous Gull 7
Great Black-backed Gull 1307
Rock Pigeon 1183
Mourning Dove 308
Great Horned Owl 2
Short-eared Owl 8
Downy Woodpecker 50
Hairy Woodpecker 53
Pileated Woodpecker 3
Canada Jay 2
Blue Jay 307
American Crow 1321
Common Raven 67
Black-caped Chickadee 753
Red-breasted Nuthatch 79
White-breasted Nuthatch 24
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 38
American Robin 20
European Starling 3378
Bohemian Waxwing 491
Cedar Waxwing 33
Pine Warbler 3
American Tree Sparrow 77
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 19
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throat Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 76
Snow Bunting 15
Northern Cardinal 19
Common Grackle 2
Pine Grosbeak 63
Purple Finch 45
House Finch 62
Common Redpoll 1185
Pine Siskin 60
American Goldfinch 297
Evening Grosbeak 802
House Sparrow 13
Unusual species for count day
American Wigeon 3
Spruce Grouse 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Carolina Wren 1
Hermit Trush 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Hoary Redpoll 1
Total count day: 15784 individuals of 62 species
Additional species for count week (16 /12 to 22/12)
Nature Moncton’s 61st Annual Christmas Bird Count
On December the 18 next 30 plus participants, split up in 9 teams, will be covering, in the field, the 24 km diameter circle that comprises the Moncton Christmas Bird Count circle (see map below). This will be the 61st year that this traditional citizen science event will be held in the city. Many more will be watching and counting birds at their feeders.
But what is the “Christmas Bird count”? It’s the longest-running Citizen Science survey in the world. It has now been going on for 122 years. In Canada it is coordinated by Bird Canada. On a chosen date between December 14, 2021 and January 5, 2022 this year again several thousand volunteers throughout North America and beyond will brave the winter weather to count not only species but also individual numbers of birds in more than 2000 specific count circles. From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in a Christmas Bird Count is making a difference for science and bird conservation. Scientists rely on the remarkable trend data from the Christmas Bird Count to better understand how birds and the environment are getting along and what needs to be done to protect them.
So this year count day in Moncton will be December the 18th and any and all birds seen or heard in the 24 hours span of that day will be compiled. But we will also add any unusual observations not seen or heard on “count day” for “count week” which goes from 3 days before count day to 3 days after, so from December 15 to December 21, 2021. If you want to get a feel of what the results of a CBC are like check out Roger report of last years count below.
Traditionally a live tally up is held at the end of the day when people can share their notes, observation and adventures over a warm meal. Sadly in the context of the pandemic this will not happen again this year but hopefully we can renew with that fun part of the event next year.
If you want to learn more or think you would like to participate in the field please get in touch with the Nature Moncton CBC compiler Roger Leblanc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nature Moncton Annual Christmas Bird Count