13th Annual Bird Count most successful ever

Mild weather played a pivotal role

Once again, the Lillooet Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was a tremendous success. The Lillooet Naturalist Society celebrated its 13th consecutive count Dec. 23, 2012.

Twenty-two enthusiastic participants spent the day watching their feeders, driving our roads, hiking along rivers, wandering through forests and fields and even kayaking on Seton Lake.

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Weather plays a pivotal role in the success of a count, affecting both the abundance and diversity of birds. This autumn was defined by mild temperatures and significant precipitation, mostly in the form of rain in the valley bottoms, and high snowfall in the mountains. Migration was generally later than normal, with more birds lingering while our rivers and lakes remained free of ice. These factors, and other variables such as food availability, set the stage for what was to be our most successful count!

A weak arctic air mass had moved in just prior to the count day, so temperatures were somewhat below normal. Count day dawned with an overcast sky, light snow, minus 7C and a stiff northerly wind with conditions improving throughout the day. The compiler (Ken Wright) heard a group of Mallards in the dim light of dawn at Seton Lake. After scanning among Buffleheads, Common and Barrow's goldeneyes, he made out the shape of three American Wigeons as well as our first Common Loon. A good start to the day.

Undeniably, the Sora, found by Ian Routley and Greg Smith at Cinquefoil Lake in the Fountain Valley, was the most unusual bird of the day. Soras belong to the Rail family, a group of birds that inhabit freshwater and brackish marshes. Soras are omnivores, feeding on seeds of wetland plants and various invertebrates. This Sora was well north of where it should be at this time of year - the southern states and Mexico.

Rough-legged Hawks nest in the arctic and regularly migrate south for the winter. We often see one on our CBC, but this year we had three! An unprecedented number of record counts were obtained this season, including: nine Trumpeter Swans, four Lesser Scaup, two Northern Harriers, 92 Eurasian Collared-Doves (an introduced species), 17 Mourning Doves (a native species), 29 Northern Flickers, six Northern Shrikes, 29 Steller's Jays, 79 Black-capped Chickadees, 65 Mountain Chickadees, four Chestnut-backed Chickadees, six White-breasted Nuthatches, eight Brown Creepers, three Pacific Wren, an astonishing 527 American Robins, 43 Spotted Towhees and 33 Red-winged Blackbirds.

Our flagship species, the American Dipper, a charismatic inhabitant of our rivers and streams, was seen in average numbers at 69.

All told, we achieved our highest species count this year - 66! This was seven higher than previous years, a 10 per cent increase. Count week produced an additional three species -American Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Belted Kingfisher - bringing the count week total to 69. Congratulations go to our dedicated and experienced local team and a special thanks to Marcia and Grant Danielson of Squamish and Heather Baines of Black Tusk Village for making the trek here.

Successful counts were also held in Hat Creek (Dec. 17) and the Yalakom Valley (Dec. 30). Full results for all CBC's can be found on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count website - http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

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