By Paul & Debra Harpley

The Annual Sutton Christmas Bird Count was held on December 27 with a total of 11,994
individual birds of 55 species in the count area, which included parts of Georgina, East Gwillimbury, northwest Uxbridge districts, and southeast Simcoe County.

A total of 33 participants were involved in observing on the day, which started as overcast at 6:30 a.m. for those “owling”.

The air temperature was -5 degrees Celsius. As the day progressed the temperature rose only slightly to -3 degrees by 1:15 to 2:00 p.m. when the sun came out briefly for one hour and continued cloudy to the end of the day.

Winds began from the southwest at 8 km/hour, changing to 10 kph from southwest at 10 a.m. continuing the rest of the day.

Lake Simcoe, and most moving rivers and streams were partially open of ice, except Cook’s Bay which had mostly become ice covered with snow, from the previous 3-4 days very windy/snow-Storm Bomb that hit our area December 24, and most of Southern Ontario. The lake was fully open north of Roche’s Point.

We had good geographic coverage of participant observers for the count area this year, and better than the last two COVID-19 pandemic years, as was typical of many counts. It was great to be back to past normalized annual count circumstances.

The total 55 species on the day (2 species less than the 2021 Count), and 1 count week bird species recorded, was within the typical historical range of annual species documented.

With more snow on the ground before the count than usual, and seasonal temperatures, it was noted by participants that some feeders were not stocked up with seed as much as in recent years, and birds were more dispersed feeding on natural forest/field food.

Hooded merganser: Adobe Stock
Belted Kingfisher: Adobe Stock

Highlights and notables for the count day were American Black duck (7), Redhead duck (3), Hooded merganser (1), Bufflehead (2), Trumpeter swan (36), Merlin (1), Great Black-backed gull (4), Northern harrier (2), Great Black-capped gull (4), Belted Kingfisher (1), Brown creeper (3), American robin (303), White-throated sparrow (3), and Common redpoll (2).

Black-capped chickadee (290) but no Boreal chickadees a few of which have been seen in Southern Ontario this early winter. Two land birds of interest with high numbers for our count were Eastern bluebird (10) and Red-breasted nuthatch (14).

Trumpeter swan. Photo: Heather MacKay, Joe Seara

Groups of Trumpeter swans were seen swimming along the lake in the week of the count,
providing exciting waterbird viewing spectacle for holiday walkers.

One bird species expected on count day but not seen, though documented for count week was Ruffed grouse (1). Bald eagles (8) was good but in some years we have got more on count day.

The cold, intense wind and snowy weather before the count may have influenced results with migrants heading south, moving out of our area faster than usual.

The arrival of Snow buntings, appearing in the area a couple of days before count day, in fields and flying across roads, riding in from the northwest on the storm, were certainly more prominent than in some years.

Winter finches, though projected to have some flights south in the eastern Canada, were not strongly represented in South Lake Simcoe this year.

Snowy owl: Adobe Stock

Three of the four expected owls were recorded on count day: Great Horned owl (3), Barred owl (4), and Snowy owl (3). Usually more Snowy owls are seen on the Sutton Count and a generally more northerly flight of Snowy owls in eastern Canada has been observed this year by some.

Thanks to all participants on the Christmas Bird Count this year as a field birders or feeder watcher/property observers.

South Lake Simcoe Naturalists members’ contributions, and local or ‘from further afield’ birders’ efforts always result in documenting birds that would otherwise not be found.

Your collective efforts on the day are vital to annual count success.