My First Year in the Christmas Bird Count

So, I signed up for the CBC this year in the area which includes my house.  It also includes like a third of the City of Sudbury.  Going on foot I knew from the get go I was not going to cover much of that area.  But since the CBC has gone without anyone counting in this area for some time now, I gather, I figured any part of it I might cover would be of some service.

The crude map below (with which I was supplied) and the route added to it by me don’t really help with a description of where I went unless you know the area, but perhaps I can make it clear enough.  Basically, following the blue lines from left to right, I left my house (1) and followed Lily Creek up my street.  The route is more or less a circle I made counter-clockwise eventually returning to my house along the creek: Lily Creek flows out of Ramsey Lake (outlined in orange), the north shore of which the map indicates is within my area.

So, I went up my street looking into the creek to the left and people’s yards to the right.  I saw a few things, the usual stuff, Chickadees, a Hairy Woodpecker, some Crows and Ravens, and Mallards in the creek.  Not the stuff I could hope to see with a little luck, White- and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches, Common Redpolls, and Downy Woodpeckers.  I did venture right up to the creek’s edge in the usual spot right near my house and found myself in snow almost to the crotch; as a result, I skipped the patch of woods next to where Regent Street overpasses the creek and made my way right to the spot where everyone climbs the bank at the end of the the apartment building parking lot to get to street level to cross Regent at Ramseyview Rd. which from there meets Centennial.

In the middle of Centennial I went north crossing through the big sports field (2).  This was to be the big open area for me to observe (it occurs to me now that I should have spent a little more time there to see what might have happened by).  Additionally, the sports field had to be crossed in order to get to that part of Lily Creek between Regent Street and Paris Street where the creek flows through a big hunk of wetland upon which a long boardwalk has been constructed.

I don’t know what I expected to see there, but it didn’t take long to be rewarded.  A couple of people had been through there before me and so a bit of a path was cut into the snow.  About 15 feet before the beginning of the boardwalk I found signs of Vole – tracks and tunnel and a good smear of what had to be pretty fresh blood.  Without other animal tracks I had to assume that a bird had caught a Vole.  (I have to admit that my hope was to see an Snowy Owl.)  I started onto the boardwalk.  Not long after that, I spotted a bird at the top of a birch at the edge of the marsh.  Fumbling for gear I took some pix (not very good given the distance and cloud and fog).  Still, the pix confirmed the identity I suspected once I got the binoculars out and got a better look.  It was a Northern Shrike and its breast was still stained with blood.  He eventually changed locations, but I wasn’t able to get much closer to him.

From All About Birds:

It feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences …. The Latin species name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, means “Butcher watchman.”

Maybe I should have spent some time looking for impaled rodent.

I then went east to Paris Street then north.  I crossed Paris to enter Bell Park (3) which is the large middle of the trail that follows the shore of Ramsey Lake from the grounds of Science North and beyond the rowing club.

The irregular shape of my route there (the blue lines on the far left) shows all the trail parts I followed.  Snow is cleared from the pedestrian areas of Bell park for the most part except they chain off the stairs meaning one has to follow the long drive way or walk on the hill to get in or out of the Park on foot.

I didn’t see much for most of the walk: Pigeons, Mallards flying over and Ravens.  But when I walked to the drive at the back of St. Joseph’s Hospital (4) I heard a birdcall that didn’t immediately register with me, but drew me in its direction.  Pigeons on the powerlines.  Then some Chickadees.  Then the birdcall again.  I looked up into a nearby tree, and spotting the bird I was pretty much struck dumb.  Snapping out of that I thought, “what is a Robin doing here?”

I hung out there for a good long time, even after Mr. Robin disappeared unbeknownst to me.  I got preoccupied with feeding Chickadees.  I’d brought a bag of Sunflower seeds and here I’d found a spot where the Chickadees didn’t hesitate to eat out of my hand.  There was about a half dozen of them and it almost turned into a frenzy with birds landing on my head to queue up for their turn at the seed pile in my hand.

After that, I left the park and made my way back towards my house.  Since this route was almost entirely residential streets I didn’t see much to count, a few Chickadees.  I did climb down from Regent Street just passed Lily Creek, instead of walking all the way down to the common spot.  This meant I found myself in waist deep snow (as difficult as that was to negotiate, it ensured that I wasn’t going to go ass over teakettle down the pile of boulders under the snow which were piled to build up the roadbed over the creek).  Again, not much to see in that wood where in summer I find lots of warblers and such.  But, since I still had birdseed on me, I filled up my Gain-laundry-detergent-bottle-feeder.

After peeling off all my excess winter wear, much of it turning wet since the deep snow caused my rubber boots to get packed, I ate the lunch I’d planned to eat ‘in the field’.  I kept an eye on the feeders front and back for awhile and thought I ought to go back out, at least to look for stuff around the house and by that see some of the birds I mentioned at the beginning.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t stay awake and had a nap instead. 

And who can blame me: all that hiking, through all that snow, in Wellies!

These numbers probably make little difference to Sudbury’s count, but I guess every little bit helps.

Rock Pigeon – 26
Mallard – 33
Hairy Woodpecker – 3
American Crow – 12
Common Raven – 10
Black-Capped Chickadee – 24
American Robin – 1
Northern Shrike – 1
European Starling – 12

And seen during Bird Count Week

Downy Woodpecker – 2 (I know it was at least 2 since I saw a male and a female)
Common Grackle – 1 (my wounded Grackle whom I haven’t seen in a few days 😦 )

Anyway, I’m vowing to be more ambitious next year.  Hit all the park land and all the water in Area 15, and linger awhile in all those places.  After that I can take the bus to the counting place or back home (the middle of the northern limit of my area is where the city bus terminal is after all).




  1. oonae said

    The point is to count — is that right? And what I want to know is: do you think the counts are useful? I would like to think they are, at least a bit, figuring for human error and assuming the error factor is about the same every year. Are there more, or fewer birds this year? And would it be a good thing if there were more or fewer?

  2. jackrroo said

    I have to admit that the counting I’ve done (there’s one in February that I’ve done for the last couple of years) was as a kind of duty and taking the bird scientists at their word that the data is useful. But I have been informed of some interesting things as a result of these counts. Eg. the near decimation of the Rusty Blackbird. And Americans in the South are particularly concerned about too many Brown-Headed Cowbirds which lay their eggs in other birds nests to the detriment of the birds’ own young.

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