BOW VALLEY – A record number of birders flocked to the 2020 Bow Valley Christmas bird count, breaking triple digits for the first time.
“It was really special – it’s great to see people supporting nature in this way,” said Heather Dempsey, coordinator for the Banff bird count.
“When people get out in nature, they become more aware of the wildlife in their natural neighbourhoods and that can only lead to more caring and looking out for nature.”
Putting their eagle eyes to good use in the blustery Chinook winds, the 105 participants – 41 in Canmore and 64 in Banff – counted more than 2,000 individual birds, down from the 2019 count, which saw 2,446. However, this year’s count saw 54 unique species, including seven that had never been found in previous counts.
Two of the seven new birds found were in the Canmore area including a ring-necked duck and a northern saw-whet owl.
Canmore bird count coordinator Ethan Denton said, in an email, other highlights included a late American robin evening grosbeaks and a female red-breasted merganser in count week.
“We did have a few cold spells in the fall, but it was relatively mild and that allowed for more open water and so we did get some more interesting water-fowl species we don’t normally get, including the ring-necked duck,” said Dempsey.
“I would have to give the credit to Ethan for finding that saw-whet owl. He’s hooked on finding owls right now. We know this owl is in the valley in the wintertime, but it has never been on our count before.”
Meanwhile, in Banff, counters' highlights included Virginia rail, an immature golden eagle, rusty blackbird and late hooded mergansers. Counters also found some horned grebes during the week, only the second time they have been found on the count.
Dempsey said the immature golden eagle was a difficult bird to properly identify, and the counters had to consult with expert birders.
There were few raptors spotted compared to previous years, but Dempsey did manage to spot a merlin while she was driving along Banff Avenue.
“I wasn’t looking for birds I was just driving through, but they are very distinctive in their flight and was fortunate enough to have seen that bird.”
This count saw 100 Bohemian waxwings, which Dempsey said is what counters would expect to see. In the 2018 count, close to 2,000 waxwings were observed in Canmore.
Notably missing from the count were winter finches including pine siskin, crossbills and redpolls. Dempsey said it is nothing to be concerned about.
“It all depends on the greater food abundance and food rotation in North America. That’s one reason we have this bird count – to see where birds are. Are they just not here? Are they somewhere else? Or are there lower numbers?” said Dempsey.