When we decided to run the 2021/22 Merritt Christmas Bird Count on December 18th we knew we would have a low participant turnout and be unable to access parts of our count circle. Just weeks before, Merritt was hit by devastating flooding and several of our regular count participants were still dealing with severe damage to their homes. And the flooding wrecked the sewage settling ponds on the edge of town, which were a regular site for interesting waterfowl.
On count day we had 17 people in the field and 2 feeder-watchers, far less than our usual 30-35 people in the field. Despite fewer people, and some nasty cold, snowy conditions we did well. Our species count was 59 on count day – very similar to the 23-year average of 61 species. And we actually set a new record for birds counted – 7,126 which is almost double the average. This high count was due to high numbers of Coot, Mallards, blackbirds, doves and pigeons (see below).
To see the complete count data, along with all previous counts, click here: Merritt Xmas Count data 2021
Perhaps the most unexpected discovery on our count was the huge flock of American Coot found on Nicola Lake. See if you can guess how many coot are in this photo (plus a few American Wigeon and Gadwall).
American Coot is not always found on the Merritt count – it has appeared in 15 of the past 23 counts. One coot was missing the Nicola Lake party – it was seen on the Nicola River in town. This year’s count of 1,118 birds is a new record high.
No new species were added to the Merritt count circle, but a few unusual species did show up:
- Wood Duck, 7 birds (only found once before in 23 years)
- Ruddy Duck, 1 bird (reported in 3 previous counts)
- Eared Grebe, 1 bird (reported in 1 previous count)
Species which appeared in unusually high numbers:
- Mallard, 2,784 birds minimum (almost 3x the average) – most were at feedlots and nearby fields.
- Rock Pigeon, 380 birds (more than double the average)
- Eurasian Collared Dove, 161 birds (3x the average count)
- Mourning Dove, 235 birds (more than double the average)
- Northern Shrike, 10 birds (all time high, average is 4 birds)
As always, there were a few BIG MISSES – species that we almost always get that failed to show up this year:
- Common Loon (seen in 15 of the 23 counts)
- Pied-billed Grebe (seen in 17 of the 23 counts)
- Hairy Woodpecker (only the second miss in 23 years)
- Red-breasted Nuthatch (only the second miss in 23 years, but seen in the Count Week)
- American Robin (seen in 18 of the 23 counts)
Exceptionally low counts were also noted for several species:
- Canada Goose, only 19 birds (the average is 242 birds)
- Green-winged Teal, 2 birds (average is 17 birds)
- Red-tailed Hawk, 8 birds (average is 15 birds)
- Pine Siskin, 1 bird (average is 42 birds)
- American Goldfinch, 10 birds (average is 48 birds)
Here are some photos from the count period. Photography was tricky with the gloomy conditions and falling snow for much of the day.
Our record high for Bohemian Waxwings in the Merritt count is 2,009 birds. This year we had only 290. In the photo above there are 123 birds. Most people would underestimate this flock.
It was a low year for finches, apart from the resident feeder-loving House Finches (266 counted – a bit above average). We recorded only one Pine Siskin and 10 American Goldfinches and there were no redpolls, crossbills or grosbeaks.
Despite the freezing weather, many of our creeks were still flowing and here we located several hardy American Dippers – a total of 10 (just above average numbers). Watching these tough little birds leap from an ice platform into icy water to find aquatic insects is an amazing experience.
Here are a couple of owls that we missed on the count day but were seen in the count week.
In the mid-afternoon the snow stopped and by dusk it was positively pleasant in the Merritt area (but still cold at -6 C).
Thanks to all who participated in the 2021 Merritt Christmas Bird Count.