An eventful Christmas Bird Count this year! Despite the recent frigid weather we had a record number of participants (36 people) and tallied a record number of individual birds (7,026, which is almost double our average count). The number of species tallied – 71 on the count day and three others in the count week – is also well above average and close to the record.
The full data set for this year’s bird count can be seen by clicking here: Merritt Xmas Count data 1995-2016
But the most exciting part of the count was the discovery of a really rare bird for B.C. – a Lesser Goldfinch. Sharp-eyed Vic Newton first noticed this unusual bird as he and the others in Liis Jeffries’ group were checking out the Colletville area. Vic’s daughter Jennifer then managed to get this good photo using her iPhone focused through a spotting scope. Various experts later identified this as a Lesser Goldfinch.
There have been only about 20 records of this species in British Columbia ever. At this time of year it should be in Mexico, California or coastal Oregon. It was first seen among a flock of the American Goldfinches – a common resident of the Merritt area and a regular in the Christmas Bird Count. The discovery of this Lesser Goldfinch in Merritt caused excitement in the BC birding scene and many hard-core birders are likely to come to Merritt to tick it off. The bird was later seen by others in the week following the CBC.
Other unusual species found this year:
- Wilson’s Snipe – 3 seen (only the third record over 18 years)
- Chukar – 6 seen (3rd record for a count day)
- Horned Lark – 35 seen (3rd record for a count day)
- Western Meadowlark – 2 seen (4th record)
- Canvasback – 3 seen (4th record)
- A hybrid Barrow’s x Common Goldeneye (the white eye patch of this male was half way between the circle of the Common and the inverted comma shape of Barrow’s)
Record high counts were reported for many bird species this year, including:
- Common Loon – 5 seen (previous high 4 birds)
- Pied-billed Grebe – 7 (6)
- Bufflehead – 111 (45)
- Hooded Merganser – 10 (6)
- Ruffed Grouse – 9 (4)
- Eurasian Collared Dove – 228 (115)
- Northern Flicker – 45 (44)
- Downy Woodpecker – 9 (6)
- American Crow – 165 (139)
- Common Raven – 193 (139)
- Bohemian Waxwing – an amazing count of 2,009 birds with one flock of over 1,500 birds (previous high 1221 birds)
- European Starling – 733 (563)
- Dark-eyed Junco – 190 (135)
Raptors were especially common this year with high counts for these species:
- Bald Eagle – 74 (previous high 56)
- Golden Eagle – 3 (close to the record count of 4 birds)
- Red-tailed Hawk – 52 (previous high 26)
- Rough-legged Hawk – 16 (previous high 10)
- American Kestrel – 3 (previous high 2)
We failed to find any Merlin this year – the first time in 12 years that we missed this species.
One feature of this year’s count was the great variety in plumage types for the Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks. Groups often had to look very carefully to identify the species, especially since both of these hawks were often found in the same open fields. Here are a few samples of the hawks seen on the 18th.
Of course, part of the enjoyment of a Christmas Bird Count is being outdoors with good company and sharing interesting wildlife experiences.