Well, the COVID pandemic certainly threw a wrench in the planning of the Merritt Christmas Bird Count this year. After considerable debate the Nicola Naturalist Society decided to go ahead and run the count, but with strict anti-COVID precautions. We didn’t publicize the count in the media and invited only those who had participated before. We re-organized the count areas within the 22-km count circle to accommodate more, but smaller, groups and kept groups to 2-3 people. On the count day everyone traveled in their own vehicle or within a family or established social bubble. And when on foot we carefully maintained 2 m distances, especially when taking turns to look at a bird through a spotting scope. And, sadly, the popular post-count potluck dinner had to be scrapped.
Despite these restrictions, and some gale-force winter winds, the count was a success – the 22nd count for the Merritt count circle. Thirty people participated (about average for recent years) and they tallied 61 species and 3,977 birds (also close to average for the 22 counts). A further 6 species were added during the Count Week period.
No new species were added to the Merritt count list, but Wayne Weber’s group did manage to call up 4 Virginia Rails at the Coutlee marsh – only the second time this species has been found.
With Nicola Lake and other water areas mostly ice-free, our waterfowl counts were above average for most species and record high counts were tallied for Gadwall (43 birds) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (76). Trumpeter Swans were in high numbers too (75) with many grey juveniles indicating that there was good breeding success in their northern breeding grounds.
Away from the water most species had fairly normal count numbers, but notably high counts were recorded for Pygmy Nuthatches (30 birds – double the average), American Robins (53 – all in one noisy flock), European Starlings (405 – well above average) and American Tree Sparrow (10 – the second highest count in 22 years). Dark-eyed Juncos (115 – double the average) and Pine Siskins (160 – second highest count) were also in high numbers.
Big misses on the count day were Common Loon (previously recorded on 15 of 22 counts), Pileated Woodpecker (previously on 16 counts) and Townsend’s Solitaire (previously on 18 counts), although the loon and woodpecker were later seen during the Count Week period. Notably low counts were American Dipper (only 2 seen, the average is 7) and Bohemian Waxwings (66 seen, well below the average of 460 and the record high of 2,009 birds).