by Lucy Patterson
Lucy Patterson is a an OFNC member and a PhD student in Biology at the University of Ottawa. Peter Lin very kindly provided the photos.
On Sunday, December 14th, 2014, over a hundred birders dug out their binoculars, bird guides and datasheets, and headed out to count every feathered creature they could find in the Ottawa area. It was the day of the 2014 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Ottawa, and the weather was near perfect: temperatures hovering around zero, and no wind or precipitation.
The CBC is an annual survey run by the Audubon Society. Now in its 115th year, it is the longest-running citizen science program in the world! From December 14th, 2014 to January 5th, 2015, citizens will be counting birds in over 2,300 locations across the Americas. The count provides valuable information about increases or declines in bird populations over time and space.
The OFNC has taken part in the CBC since 1920, and has partnered with the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais in recent years. It is currently coordinated by the OFNC’s Bernie Ladouceur. Overall, the Ottawa count covers the area within a 12-km radius centred on the Peace Tower. This area is divided into six sectors (Gatineau, Hull, Aylmer, Britannia, Ottawa and Gloucester) and participants are assigned to a smaller area within one of the sectors. At the end of the day, the datasheets from each team are handed in to the sector coordinator, and the data are tallied at a compilation dinner.
This year, roughly 27,000 individual birds of 77 different species were observed. Although the numbers are still preliminary, the general findings are as follows. 2014 was a record year for woodpeckers: records were broken for downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers; and tied for the red-bellied woodpecker. This may be related to rising levels of the emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle living under tree bark, in the region. Record highs were also found for white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals, wild turkeys, and gray catbirds.
Also notable was the first-ever record of a black-crowned night heron during a CBC in Ottawa. There were additionally some tied records: northern saw-whet owl, rose-breasted grosbeak, and pied-billed grebe.
The highest number for any species recorded in Ottawa in 2014 was for American crows (8,827), although this falls short of the 2008 record of 21,000. Canada geese, gull and finch numbers were lower than average. Finalized totals will be posted on the OFNC website in the New Year.
The OFNC Birds Committee organizes a number of birding events. Any club member interested in participating in any of these activities can read more about them at www.ofnc.ca/birding.php.
Photos by Peter Lin
By Jonathan VanAmburg
“Perfect Christmas Bird Count weather in Ottawa: -32C and 20-25cm of snow. Fun times, fun times,” remarked Gillian Shields on Facebook, as she set out for a day in the cold. She and dozens of other area birders came out for the 93rd Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 15. The annual event was organized by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club and the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais.
During the day, over 100 observers spotted 67 species and over 15,000 individual birds according to the preliminary tally. The species count was below the 10-year average of 71.8 because of the early onset of winter this year; the cold, snowy and windy day; and perhaps the poorest winter finch numbers in a couple of decades. A low American Crow count – 3,743 compared with the usual 10,000 – also affected the total. Official results will be released early in the new year.
Highlights included 2 Harlequin Ducks, a White-winged Scoter, and the first record of a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. The day also saw an all-time high of 9 Snowy Owls. One Snowy Owl was spotted downtown battling a Peregrine Falcon (see story below).
A big thank-you to the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais for hosting the after-CBC dinner and tally.
If Sunday’s stormy weather kept you away, here are some other Christmas Bird Counts that you can join: Bird Studies Canada’s location finder.
Bird Studies Canada is also looking for feedback on the Christmas Bird Count. If you want to participate visit the Bird Studies Canada website.
The Falcon and the Snowy
By Anouk Hoedeman
Late in the afternoon, Jon Ruddy, Jeremy Bryan and I had yet to find the resident peregrine falcons, despite checking the Coats Building at Tunney’s Pasture several times. We decided to try the Delta Hotel at Albert and Lyon, their other favourite hangout. As we drove up Slater St., Jon spotted an enormous, heavily barred Snowy Owl that we had seen earlier in the day behind the War Museum. Now she was in the air, flying toward the downtown core.
“Oh no,” I exclaimed, “it’s headed straight for the falcons!” “I wonder who would win that battle?” asked someone else. I didn’t have to think long before replying, “My money’s on the falcons.”
Sure enough, as we crossed Bronson, we saw Diana (our female peregrine) come flying around the corner toward the owl, which was now right in front of us.
It all happened very quickly (as things do with angry peregrines), so I can’t be entirely sure of the sequence of events. Diana easily caught up with the now-panicking owl over an empty lot on the south side of Slater. It took a hit, scrambled for a foothold on the side of an apartment building, tumbled down, and finally found a perch on the edge of a balcony. But the falcon continued to attack. The owl took off again and disappeared somewhere behind us, with the falcon still in pursuit.
It was an awesome sight. As Jeremy summed up the next day, “I don’t think I’m likely to ever again witness a Snowy Owl and Peregrine Falcon engaged in an aerial dogfight. It really was more reminiscent of a scene from an action thriller than a bird count as the combatants tumbled down the side of the building fighting. I’m glad that the Hollywood ending dictated that the owl got away in the end!”
And she did. Our heart rates back to a manageable speed, we continued on Slater, up Kent, and back along Albert to see if the male peregrine was at the Delta. No sign of him, but we didn’t really care at that point. As we continued west, we saw the owl again. She appeared uninjured and was flying south – hopefully not toward the other resident peregrines at Confederation Heights!