Unexpected surprises found during annual Christmas Bird Count

By Ilka Milne
Fort Frances CBC Compiler
and Henry Miller
RRVFN public outreach

Late migrants and well stocked bird feeders made for a fun bird count on December 18. The Fort Frances Christmas Bird Count turned up 32 species, 5 seasoned field birdwatchers and 13 feeder watchers. Henry Miller, Mike Hammond, Bob Saunders, Henry Van Ael, Ilka Milne, Robyn Lloyd and Randy Spritt covered the field routes, with a combined total of 280 km by car and 16 km on foot, while 13 feeder watchers and walkers put in 34 hours of birdwatching.

This catbird, which usually migrates to the south in the fall, remains here. It may have lost its way or may have been injured. It was found at a feeder by Ria McPherson. The RRVFN thank Ilka Milne for organizing the Bird Count and compiling the results and writing the report. – Submitted photo

In spite some interesting late migrants in the area, we all missed seeing any Canada Geese or Mallards. Also missed, in spite of evidence of it hunting around several feeders: the butcher bird, Northern Shrike. No owls were recorded either, making the species total of 32 a pretty good day. Often when we top 30 species it is because owls have moved into the area because of a prey crash further north.

The late migrants of interest are the Gray Catbird, seen by a feeder watcher in Couchiching, and American Robin, Dark-eyed Juncos, Bufflehead and Common Grackle – all seen in town by various observers. Gray Catbirds are near the northern summer limit of their range here, and overwinter along the gulf coast up to the southern part of the eastern sea board in the US. Accordingly, our late migrant is feeling chilly and apparently comes out to sun itself only on the finest days. At this writing it was last seen several days before count day. American Robins overwinter in the US and southern BC. Our December Robins usually are found near fruit trees and warm yards. Dark-eyed Juncos are small sparrow-like seed eaters who overwinter mainly in the eastern US, but in milder early and late winter we do often see them here. Common Grackles overwinter in the eastern US south of the Great Lakes typically, but we see them in December counts about as frequently as Robins. Buffleheads are small diving ducks who overwinter on the coasts and southern US. We’ve only seen them twice since 1995, and the last time was in 2005. We had a report of a Northern Cardinal in Emo the week before the count.

The Northern Goshawk, observed by a walker on the 8th Street Trails, is a year-round resident forest-dwelling hawk. It is rarely seen near town as it is more typical of large mature forested areas. Unlike the more usually seen Cooper’s Hawk and Kestrel (both significantly farther south at this time of year), the Northern Goshawk takes larger prey such as grouse and hare. Most other species counts were within previous limits, but the Hairy Woodpecker and American Crow both established new highs.

Any birdwatchers who would like to share their observations we encourage to try eBird. You can log online or download it to your phone and contribute your sightings, whether you occasionally see something interesting or are a daily watcher. You can choose your privacy settings, use the service simply as a place to store and share data or learn about birds others are seeing.

This is our Fort Frances CBC 2021 list:

  • Bufflehead 1
  • Common Goldeneye 19
  • Ruffed Grouse 8
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse 58
  • Northern Goshawk 1
  • Bald Eagle 36
  • Rock Pigeon 117
  • Downy Woodpecker 19
  • Hairy Woodpecker 32
  • Northern Flicker 2
  • Pileated Woodpecker 1
  • Canada Jay 17
  • Blue Jay 67
  • Black-billed Magpie 38
  • American Crow 281
  • Common Raven 249
  • Black-capped Chickadee 41
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch 23
  • White-breasted Nuthatch 18
  • American Robin 1
  • Gray Catbird 1 (count wk)
  • European Starling 248
  • Bohemian Waxwing 25
  • Cedar Waxwing 3
  • Snow Bunting 20
  • Dark-eyed Junco 6
  • Common Grackle 1
  • Pine Grosbeak 233
  • White-winged Crossbill 6
  • Common Redpoll 292
  • American Goldfinch 4
  • Evening Grosbeak 56
  • House Sparrow 106