This year’s count had all the hallmarks of a great day for birding, with mild temperatures, no wind, no rain and overcast. So, on December 16, 2023, 17 teams representing 35 birders felt confident for a good day of many bird sightings.
Alas, the near perfect conditions were not rewarded. For whatever reasons, the number of species and the total number of birds observed were significantly down from our 35+ year average. This was despite the teams accumulating just short of 52 hours of birding and covering an aggregate of 108 km of trails, fields, shores and roads. In fact, the number of species detected was our 6th lowest, while the total number of birds was our 7th lowest in our historical record of 37 years. This low result was also seen on the Saturna Island count as well, particularly on the marine side.
Possible Reasons for Low Numbers
Counters did remark that there were many more birds around leading up to the count day as well as after the count day. I cannot conjecture on the why of this low count year, as there are likely many factors involved, the weather being just one. The particularly mild fall throughout the province meant that the availability of suitable habitat for feeding was greater, including snow free ground, ice free lakes, and wetlands. This allowed birds to be dispersed more widely across the landscape. For marine waters, the usual large flocks of diving birds just were not around.
Mayne Island Stats
This year’s effort garnered a total of 61 species (long term average 69) and 2864 birds (long term average 5073). The highlights were the observations of a Saw-whet Owl, which is the first for our Mayne count, and an American Kestrel, which is a beautiful small raptor. Another highlight during the count week was a flock of over 300 Surfbirds foraging on the rocks at Georgina Point. The top ten species for this year in order were: Dark-eyed Junco (342), gull species (280), Barrow’s Goldeneye (270), Chestnut-backed Chickadee (192), American Widgeon (122), European Starlings (120), Golden-crowned Kinglet (119), Red-breasted Nuthatch (102), Common Raven (90), and Canada Goose (87).
Count Circle Totals
The Mayne Island count is part of an Audubon count circle which also includes North and South Pender and Saturna islands. We are collectively identified in the North American database as Pender Islands (BCPI). On any count year there can be significant differences in count results on each of the islands even though we count the same day and time period. This year was not different, with the Penders’ count tallying 75 species and 4048 birds. Saturna recorded 69 species and 3805 birds. Adding these results to the Mayne count statistics, we come up with 91 species and a total of 10,718 birds for the count circle. This was a surprisingly good result.
Collectively, the four islands had 28 teams participating in the field and 25 feeder watchers, for a total of 131 participants. These teams, in total, logged 275 hours and just over 285 kilometers to observe and record birds around the islands.
The success of the long-running island bird count has everything to do with the many, many participants who have contributed their time and enthusiasm to this annual event. Thank you!
Stay tuned for more information on our fourth annual Big Day Count in early May 2024.