Last year the temperature when I left the house was -18C, the high that day was about -10C. There was some wind blowing in our faces for the trail portion of the event (a hike of about 3 hours). And for the first hour or so, almost no birds at all were so foolish as to be up and about in those temperatures. But we did see birds that day, 18 species plus a bonus of a flock 300-400 snow buntings in a field just outside our count area.
This year the temperature was just below 0C when we started, and rose to just a little above. (This has been the temperature around here for the last several days.) It was cloudy, but there was no rain or snow, and the sun broke through in the afternoon.
We started out slow: a few birds at feeders on the drive to the trail we would hike, but then things got better with the spotting of the first northern shrike--sitting high in a tree, at some distance away. Then a second, a little further along, flew into an apple tree, and out again with a piece of apple. After that it stayed with us for several minutes flying to one spot and then another on the sides of the trail, giving us some excellent views. One of the other counters and I got pictures. I think his were probably better. One of mine confirms the sighting (the other was entirely out of focus), but is way overexposed for reasons unknown to me.
Tracks in the snow on the trail included squirrel, rabbit, muskrat, deer, coyote, and one of the larger members of the weasel family, small otter or mink maybe.
After the trail we got into one of the cars headed back to the others for lunch, then headed out for the driving portion of the count in one car. Last year there were just two of us--so only one watcher during the drive. This year with four I think we saw more birds more safely.
We did finally see a red-tailed hawk, just as we were beginning to despair of being able to count at least one of these normally ubiquitous raptors. But we never saw any wild turkeys, although I did have a flock of these guys fly across a road behind me on the drive down to meet the group (and that's one weird sight to see in your rearview mirror!). Towards the end of the afternoon I think it was me who cried "stop" for some robins hanging out by some apple and sumac trees. We saw that they were indeed robins--first time for us that day--first time for me since much earlier in the season--a good bird to count. We got out of the car for a better look when another in the group cried "bluebird!" And indeed there were, five eastern bluebirds, possibly a family group, as there seemed to be only one mature male. They weren't with the robins (who left soon after we arrived), but were presumably attracted to the spot by the same food source. As we watched they flew down, one or two at a time, to eat the fuzzy, red fruit of the sumac. Mourning doves were the most numerous of the birds we saw, and in the bit of coverage remaining we counted many more--then the last bird added to the list, a flock of 50 snow buntings!
I've learned since Tuesday that the Belleville count area is a circle with a radius of 12 kilometres and its centre at the
I'd recommend this to any birder--even if you have to travel a little to find a count. It's an excellent time of year to take a whole day off and do some birding.
(species found in my team's area in bold)
American Black Duck
Eastern Screech Owl
Great Horned Owl
American Tree Sparrow