Monday, February 20, 2017

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a four day citizen science event that takes place each year in February, this year from February 17-20.  The idea of the event is to get a snapshot in time of where all the birds are across the world.  Obviously, I wanted to participate and try to see the most species for the Algoma District.  All the data is entered through eBird, but the data for the Great Backyard Bird Count can be viewed separately from the rest of the eBird data.

Day One started when I left work a little early and headed to nearby Bellevue Park.  There haven't been many birds there lately, but I managed to get my first nine species for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The usual Rock Pigeons, Black-capped Chickadees, American Crows and Common Ravens were all there.  The Pine Grosbeaks that had been hanging around were still there, as well as two of the Purple Finches that I've commonly seen there this winter.  Two White-breasted Nuthatches and a single American Goldfinch rounded out the stop.  I then headed over to Whitefish Island and the St. Mary's Rapids.  Here I added Mallard, American Black Duck, Common Merganser, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, American Robin, European Starling, Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker.  This put me up to 17 species on the day, but that left me in second place in the Algoma District after Day One, trailing by two.

Day Two was a much better day.  I awoke to an email saying a Canvasback was seen the day before in the St. Mary's River.  Despite the fog, I was able to track it down.  This was really exciting since it was a lifer and a rare bird for the area.  I had to go to Desbarats for a Sault Naturalists outing on a Kensington Conservancy property that I managed, so I headed there, adding a Merlin along the way.  The Sharp-tailed Grouse were present again and the resident Red-tailed Hawk flew over, this time with a mate.  After spooking a Ruffed Grouse, I was able to add three more species over the course of the hike.  I then went over to St. Joseph Island where I stopped at Barry Lyons' to try to see the Red-bellied Woodpeckers he had coming to his feeder.  Barry was actually the one who stopped the Canvasback first.  Over the course of half an hour or so, two Red-bellied Woodpeckers stopped by and I also added Blue Jay to my weekend list.  After driving past an almost guaranteed Wild Turkey spot and seeing those, I went to my parents' house.  Their feeder produced my final two new species for the day, Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch.  My total after two days was now 28, good for an eight species lead going into Day Three.

Day Three was a very big let down compared to Day Two.  I had plans to go fishing on St. Joseph Island and was hoping to add a Bald Eagle or a Rough-legged Hawk on the drive there, but no luck.  While fishing, I heard Mourning Doves and later saw over 30 of them when I walked down the shoreline, so that was a new one for the count.  I spent the rest afternoon at my parents' and a Northern Cardinal showed up today, another new one for the count.  My new total after Day Three was 30,  but I dropped down to second place, trailing by four.

Day Three started with waking up to another email, this time saying a Greater Scaup had been seen down in the St. Mary's River.  I arrived at Clergue Park, which is where it was seen the day before.  There were lot's of ducks in the river, but no scaup after my first scan.  Three Bald Eagles were out on the ice, so I finally was able to add them to my list.  I actually saw one caught and eat a duck.  After about five minutes, the scaup showed up.  I snapped a few pictures as proof and then it disappeared again.  I was able to add Red-breasted Merganser and Hooded Merganser while there too.  My next stop was Whitefish Island again, where I only was able to add Pileated Woodpecker.  After heading home for lunch and a few chores, I went out for a walk at Fort Creek Conservation Area.  I took a trail I'd never been down before and came across a group of feeders that someone had up in the middle of the forest.  There were a bunch of regular feeder birds at and around the feeders, but on a nearby tree I saw a Brown Creeper, another new one for the weekend and a lifer!  My last stop of the day was back down at the St. Mary's River at the Delta Hotel.  Three Ring-billed Gulls were out on the ice with the Herring Gulls and a Canada Goose was eating grass in front.  I ended the day with a grand total of 38 species seen over the course of the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend, good for first place, three species ahead of second!

It was definitely a very fun and very rewarding weekend.  I was able to add six species to my year list for the Algoma District, with three of them being lifers.  The unusually warm weather definitely helped as the birds were active and some species that shouldn't be here yet, were here.  There were 52 species total seen this weekend in Algoma and I was able to get 73.08% of them.  While it does feel good to get the most species, I have no idea how hard anyone else was trying and the whole idea of the Great Backyard Bird Count is definitely not a competition.  It was good to see a lot of unfamiliar names pop up on eBird over the weekend as people took part in the event.  My 38 species was also good for a tie for 76th place in Ontario, which is very good considering Southern Ontario has way more birds than we do here.  It also placed me in a tie for 209th in all of Canada.  I look forward to doing this again next year!

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