Well, a picture is worth a thousand words …….
For most of the day on 17th December our field groups experienced the conditions this heron was tolerating – heavy snowfall and -8C temperatures with some wind. Getting useful photographs was a major challenge. Incidentally, this was the only Great Blue Heron to be found on the count day.
But, despite the snowy conditions we had a good count. We had 21 people out in the field and 3 feeder-watchers. We recorded 60 species on the count day (close to the average of 61 across 24 years) and two additional species during the count week. We recorded a record high count of 9,154 birds (more than double the long-term average) thanks mainly to huge flocks of Mallards that were on Nicola Lake and feeding on the hayfields at nearby ranches. We tallied 5,199 Mallards and that included leaving out over 3,000 ducks we saw on Nicola Lake that we assumed had been counted on the hayfields.
The complete count data are available here: Merritt Xmas Count data 2022
Some of the highlights:
We recorded two species that were new to the Merritt Christmas Bird Counts. The first was Sharp-tailed Grouse seen in the Quilchena area – first a flock of 21, counted accurately as they flew directly overhead after the observers had seen them in the nearby trees and thickets. An hour later a lone bird was found some distance away and clearly not part of the bigger flock. This grouse species inhabits the high grasslands and was likely driven to lower elevations by the deep snow cover we are experiencing this winter.
The second new species to our count history was Snow Bunting – a flock of 15 on the hayfields of the Huber Ranch near Quilchena. This species was a Count Week sighting in 2013, but has never appeared on the count day. No photos were obtained, but this location often supports Snow Buntings in winter.
It was a good year for picking up owls. Northern Pygmy Owl and Great Horned Owl are fairly regular species for our count (found on 11 and 7 previous counts, respectively), but a Short-eared Owl, seen near Quilchena, is only the second occurrence for a Merritt CBC.
It was also a good year for the two Buteo hawks that occur in winter in our area. We recorded 24 Red-tailed Hawks (well above the average of 15) and 15 Rough-legged Hawks (close to the all-time high of 16 birds).
Several other species occurred in high numbers, compared to the previous 23 counts:
- Pied-billed Grebe – 5 (average is 2)
- Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5 (equal to the previous record high)
- Rock Pigeon – 281 (average is 188)
- Eurasian Collared Dove – 242 (record high count, average is 70)
- Northern Flicker – 54 (average is 26)
- Northern Shrike – 7 (average is 4)
- European Starling – 787 (record high count, average is 285)
- American Tree Sparrow – 11 (average is 5)
- Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco – 263 (average is 76)
On the downside, we missed a few of our regular species:
- Belted Kingfisher – seen in the Count Week but not on the Count Day (has been recorded in 19 of the previous 23 counts)
- Mountain Chickadee – recorded in 22 of the previous 23 counts, but not this year.
- White-breasted Nuthatch – recorded in 17 of the previous counts.
And a few other species were seen in low numbers:
- Great Blue Heron – 1 (average count is 4)
- Clark’s Nutcracker – 1 (average is 24)
- Song Sparrow – 7 (average is 21)
And did we mention that we saw a lot of Mallards on the count day?
Another waterbird found in big numbers on Nicola Lake was American Coot.
But one lone coot was missing the party ….
Bohemian Waxwings are another northern species that migrates south into our area in winter, to feed on berries and buds. They have been recorded in all 24 Merritt Christmas Bird Counts and in very variable numbers from 1 to over 2,000. This year we found 670 waxwings.
And finally a word of thanks to the folks who braved the snow and searched out birds in eight zones within the count circle.