Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2020

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.

Loretta and Alan showing covid-safe spacing while birding at Nicola Lake on the 2020 Merritt Christmas Bird Count. Photo: Craig Gartner

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.

To see the complete count data click here: Merritt CBC Data 2020

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.

A few of the hundreds of Canada Geese on Nicola Lake – overall 536 geese were counted across the count circle – about double the average but not a record high. Photo: © Alan Burger
Another group of Canada Geese at Nicola Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger
More Canada Geese at Nicola Lake near Quilchena. Note the adult Bald Eagle in the top left corner. Photo: © Loretta Holmes
Spot the Gadwall. The duck in the centre is a female Gadwall, looking very similar to the female Mallards that surround her. We tallied a record high of 43 Gadwall on the count day, mostly on Nicola Lake and at the sewage settling ponds. Photo: © Anne Pang

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.

An American Tree Sparrow having a drink at a puddle. Ten of this species were seen, the second-highest number in our 22 Christmas counts. This little sparrow is a winter visitor from northern boreal forests. Photos: © Alan Burger
A great view of a White-breasted Nuthatch. The least common of the three nuthatch species that we get around Merritt, this species was missed in several of our recent Christmas Bird Counts and this bird was the sole representative this year. Photo: © Vic Newton
Another view of the same White-breasted Nuthatch, with a seed in its bill. Photo: © Vic Newton

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).

Here are more photos from the Merritt CBC:

Alan and Craig birding at the Triangle Ranch near Quilchena. Photo: Loretta Holmes
Two female Common Mergansers on choppy Nicola Lake. High winds for much of the day made it difficult to spot birds out on the lake. Photo: Loretta Holmes
A few of the 951 Mallards seen on the count day. Notice the leg band on the female in front. This bird has obviously been captured and banded at some point in its life. We were unable to read the band information. Photo: Loretta Holmes
This was the only Ruffed Grouse seen on the 2020 Merritt CBC. Photo: © Gerry and Jill Sanford
A couple of shots of a female Hairy Woodpecker on count day. Photos: © Vic Newton
Song Sparrows have appeared in all 22 of the Merritt Christmas counts over the years. They are year-round residents in our area. Photo: © Alan Burger
Northern Flicker is another species that has appeared in all 22 Merritt CBCs. This bird, with the red moustache is a male; females don’t show this feature. Photo: © Anne Pang.
American Goldfinches – female on the left, male in winter plumage on the right. Goldfinches, like most finches, show big fluctuations in numbers as seed crops vary. This year we counted 53, just above average, but in previous Merritt counts the numbers have fluctuated from 1 to 152. Photo: © Anne Pang.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are fairly regular in the Merritt Christmas counts, being seen on 15 of the 22 counts. They are often seen near feeders, where they try to catch smaller birds like sparrows, finches or starlings. Photo: © Vic Newton.

Many thanks to those who participated.


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