By Paul and Debra Harpley

The Annual Sutton Christmas Bird Count was Wednesday December 27, 2023 with a total of 7,176 individual birds, a noticeable decrease from last years count. On count day participants documented 51 species in the entire area.

Geographically, the survey area includes parts of York Region’s municipalities Georgina, East Gwillimbury, Durham Region’s northwest Uxbridge districts, and parts of south-east Simcoe County.

A total of 36 individuals formally participated, in the field and at feeders for the count area this year engaged on the day.

The observation day started as overcast with some ground fog locally in wet areas at 6:30 a.m. for those “owling”. The air temperature was 5 degrees Celsius. As the day progressed the temperature rose only slightly by 1 degree by 12:30 p.m. continuing cloudy to the end of the day.

Winds began from the east to northeast at 6 km/hour and were generally consistent all day. Lake Simcoe, and most moving rivers and streams were completely open water. The heavy rains that began at daylight with seasonally very warm temperature during the count, were unexpected. In the many years the count had never had a survey day like this!

The continuous rain for separate periods of time for 2-3 hours in some locations made observation from vehicles and walking in the field challenging. Many feeders were completely unproductive for birds in this weather event.

Golden-crowned kinglet
Green-winged teal
Eastern Screech owl

The birds were clearly out in the bush, underneath cover. Given the unusual weather constraints, and thanks to our good geographic coverage with participant observers, the total species list (only 4 fewer species compared to a year ago) was commendable.

Some highlights and notables for the count day were, Golden-crowned kinglet (1), Brown creeper (2), Red-breasted nuthatch (3), Belted kingfisher (2), Barred owl (2), Great Horned owl (1), Eastern Screech owl (4), Double-crested cormorant (2), Boneparte’s gull (3), Merlin (1), American kestrel (1), Northern harrier (1), Snow bunting (70), and a pair of Green-winged teal (2) was well documented. It is a new waterfowl species historically for the count.
An obvious species with low numbers this year was American robin (4).

Two consistent bird species of interest for bird watchers on the Sutton Count, Bald eagle and Snowy owl were not seen on count day, the first time in many years.

One showy bird species, the Pileated woodpecker (3) was documented, but with the rain were not flying a lot so were hard to find. Count week bird species (not actually seen on the day) included Redhead duck, Greater scaup, Ruffed grouse, Red-shouldered hawk, Northern shrike, Horned lark, White-throated sparrow, and Purple finch.

The three of four expected owl species recorded on count day, Great Horned, Barred, and Screech, were difficult to call, hear and locate with the increasingly rainy early morning field conditions.

Thanks to all participants on the Christmas Bird Count this year as field birders or feeder watcher/property observers. South Lake Simcoe Naturalists (SLSN) 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 Sutton count success.