Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2023

The 25th Merritt Christmas Bird Count was held in unusually mild weather (thanks to El Niño) on 16 December 2023. We had 27 participants in the field (an increase from our pandemic low numbers) and three feeder-watchers. On count day we tallied 67 species (well above our average of 61 species) and added a further two in the count week. Our total count of birds, 5,998, was well above the average of 4,111 birds, but much lower than last year’s record of 9,154 birds.

For a summary of this year’s results click here

For all the data from 1995 to 2023 click here

Once again it was the hordes of Mallards that pushed up our numbers – we tallied 3,315 Mallards on Nicola Lake, on the surrounding agricultural lands and in town.

Some of the hundreds of Mallards on partly-frozen Nicola Lake, 16 December 2023. The white blobs among the ducks are a couple of Tundra Swans. Photo:© Alan Burger

There were several highlights of the 2023 CBC. We added two new species for the Merritt count: Pacific Loon and Common Grackle. In both cases it was only close inspection of photos that allowed us to determine the species.

The Pacific Loon found on Nicola Lake during the Merritt Christmas Bird Count. Photos © Alan Burger
This Common Grackle was at feeders in Merritt – the first recorded in a Christmas count here. Photos © Vic Newton

A third species that was never previously found on a Merritt CBC was present during the count week, but unfortunately was not around on the count day – an American White Pelican. Pelicans are quite common on Nicola Lake and nearby lakes in spring through fall, but having one in winter is exceptional.

This American White Pelican was on Nicola Lake and then preening on a nearby hayfield on 13 December 2023, within the Merritt count week. Photos © Alan Burger

Other unusual species found on the count day included:

  • Tundra Swan – a lone juvenile (a species only recorded on 3 previous counts)
  • Northern Shoveler – 2 on the Merritt settling ponds (on only 2 previous counts)
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse – 2 birds at Quilchena (only the second time on the Merritt count)
  • Peregrine Falcon – at Quilchena (on only 2 previous counts)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – at Quilchena (on only 1 previous count in 2002)

Here are some photos of these rarities.

Long-distant photos of a juvenile Tundra Swan present on Nicola Lake during the Merritt Christmas count. Photos Alan Burger
There is no mistaking this species with its impressive snoz – a female Northern Shoveler on the Merritt settling ponds. Photo © Vic Newton
One of the two Sharp-tailed Grouse feeding on buds high in a cottonwood tree at Quilchena. The only other time this species has been on Merritt Christmas count was last year when we tallied 21 birds. Photo © Alan Burger
A warbler in mid-winter is exceptional anywhere in the interior of B.C. This Yellow-rumped Warbler was present on the Merritt count day. The white throat suggests that this is the eastern Myrtle Warbler type. Photos © Alan Burger

Several species occurred in record or near-record high numbers:

  • Barrow’s Goldeneye – a record high count of 104 birds (average is 32 birds)
  • Hooded Merganser – 12 birds (average is 5)
  • Common Merganser – record high of 42 birds (average is 13)
  • Common Loon – 5 birds (average is 2)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – a record high of 55 birds (average is 18)
  • Song Sparrow – a record high of 50 birds (average is 22)
  • House Sparrow – a record high of 401 birds (average is 89)
A Common Loon on Nicola Lake – one of five found on the Merritt count day. Compare with the Pacific Loon up the page. Photo © Loretta Holmes
Song Sparrows have been recorded on all 25 Merritt Christmas counts but this year we found a record 50 birds. Photo © Loretta Holmes
House Sparrow – this introduced species from Eurasia is very much at home across North America. We tallied a record 401 birds on the Merritt Christmas count. Photo © Loekie van der Wal.

On the down side we failed to find these regulars:

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk (previously found on 17 of the 25 Merritt counts)
  • Rough-legged Hawk (previously on 22 counts)
  • Pileated Woodpecker (previously on 18 counts)

And the strangest of all was the complete absence of blackbirds; we normally record over 100 of both Red-winged Blackbirds (found on 22 previous counts) and Brewer’s Blackbirds (on 21 counts).

Here are more photos from the count day.

One of our birding teams enjoying a Pygmy Nuthatch at a Merritt feeder. We tallied a record high of 55 of these tiny nuthatches on the count day. Photo © Vic Newton
Eurasian Collared Dove, another species that was introduced and has spread across much of North America. These doves were first recorded on a Merritt CBC in 2009 and are now well established and more common than the indigenous Mourning Dove. In 2023 we tallied 186 Collared Doves and only 37 Mourning Doves. Photo © Loekie van der Wal.
A European Starling – yet another introduced species that is now across most of North America and common in Merritt. We counted 225 starlings in the 2023 count. Photo © Loekie van der Wal
Trumpeter Swans are a regular species on the Merritt Christmas count – this year we counted 51. This pair, with three juveniles from the summer breeding season, has migrated from breeding sites well to the north, possibly Alaska or Yukon. Photo © Alan Burger
American Tree Sparrow, another winter visitor to our area from the far northern boreal regions. We counted 18 of these birds. They are never common in our area and occurred on only 11 of our previous Christmas counts. Photos © Alan Burger.
Canada Geese on the icy shores of Nicola Lake. Our count of 337 geese was above the average of 225 birds. Photo © Alan Burger
Another regular customer – a Horned Grebe. We’ve found this species on Nicola Lake in 23 of the 25 Merritt counts. Photo © Alan Burger

And finally one of our regulars and a common visitor to many backyard feeders in Merritt, but always a cheerful sight ……..

Black-capped Chickadees at Quilchena on the Merritt count. Photos © Alan Burger

And for the first time in four years we were able to hold a post-count get-together to share pizza, yummy appies and desserts and stories from the day’s birding.


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