The eighth annual Christmas Bird Count numbers are in for the ONRI region

(A Tree Sparrow was caught in the camera lens of Bill Bowman during the 2023 Christmas Bird Count for the Richmond-Munster-Stittsville-Manotick-Bells Corners area.)

The weather on December 16 provided the perfect day for bird watching and the annual bird count for our area. This is the eighth year that the count has taken place in the Richmond-Munster-Stittsville-Manotick-Bells Corners region. The day was sunny and the winds were relatively calm, with partial snow cover that melted throughout the day. Birders had to be cautious near the open water streams and rivers, but the majority of ponds were frozen. An excellent day for performing the bird count.

In all, 50 people participated in the 2023 bird count, with 41 field observers and 13 watching the bird feeders. With 59 species being counted this year, it fell short by two species of the 2020 record. However, the week long count saw an additional six species being added. “An excellent result” noted by the ONRI organizers.

(Peter Blancher captured these photos of two specimens of the birds being counted.)

The highs and lows on the count day produced two first records. 1.) Hooded Merganser in the Stittsville area, and a Gray Catbird at the very edge of  the circle in Bells Corners. Two more species were found for the first time during count week and, 2.) Red-breasted  Mergansers on the Rideau River, and a Peregrine Falcon in Richmond. The ONRI species list now stands at 83 species (91 species when including count week).

(Two more species from Peter Blancher.)

There were also 12 record high counts set this year. Most noteworthy were three species that shattered previous records by a wide margin – 132 House Finches (vs 59), 67 Common Mergansers (vs 27), and 8 White-throated Sparrows (vs 2).

Among Nuthatches, large year-to-year fluctuations in Red-breasted Nuthatches are expected; cyclic fluctuation in White-breasted Nuthatch numbers is typically much more moderate (see 2021 article in All About Birds). However, the graph below shows how White-breasted numbers have been more variable in the ONRI count, with a record high this year.

There were two notable absences of species normally found on the count – the Snowy Owl and the Rough-legged Hawk. In fact, numbers of diurnal raptors were close to an all-time low at 21 birds (49 last year). This may reflect several factors – the low snow cover, locally, low abundance of prey here, or few prey on northern breeding grounds during the past summer. Evening Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings were also absent from the count, continuing their two-year cycles of abundance. Hopefully they will return next year. 

Those who participated as feeder counters reported an impressive 27 species of birds, including a Great Horned Owl, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, as well as over 20% of the Woodpeckers found in the ONRI circle on count day.

Unfortunately, at least two field teams could not participate due to COVID prior to count day. Numbers were reduced at the compilation event due to COVID concerns, though there were representatives present from all of the sectors for the first look at the day’s numbers.

The Bells Corners crew really upped their game this year, with 12 more species than in 2022. Their total of 44 count day species is the highest sector count in ONRI history (previous high 38 in Richmond North). The Stittsville sector also saw an increase of seven count day species compared to 2022. As in the past, all sectors had at least one species seen nowhere else in the count, emphasizing how important each sector is to the overall count.

The 8th annual count organizers were Nina Stavlund, Tony Beck and Pete Blancher. Bill Bowman, Derek Dunnett, Tobi Kiesewalter and Erik Pohanka assisted in the ONRI sectors. A big thank you to all  participants in 2023! 

(The organizers for the 8th annual Christmas Bird Count came together for a final number review. Photo: Nina Stavlund)

On the ONRI facebook page, you can find the full counts by sector.


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