By Gillian Slade on December 28, 2018.
The number of Canada geese recorded in the recent bird count is a record high.
“We had another record high for them,” said Marty Drut, park interpreter, Medicine Hat Interpretive Program.
More than 21,500 Canada geese were counted out of a total Another Canada geese record at 2018 Christmas Bird Count count of 28,677, according to the report. The previous recorded high was 19,848 in 2017.
When bird counts started in 1982 the number of geese was 20 per cent of the total bird count, said Drut. By the mid 1990s geese represented 50 per cent or more of the bird count.
Migration is not without its risks, and for the geese who have found they can survive winter here there is no incentive to leave, he explained. They typically will find grain to eat on farmers’ fields.
For robins this is a different story with earthworms and insects in short supply over winter.
“Some robins can survive. They eat berries and they make it,” said Drut.
Many of the Canada geese can be seen leaving the South Saskatchewan River in the morning or arriving back at sunset. They typically sit on ice or sandbars and are separated from the river bank by a stretch of water. Drut says this is all about safety, distancing themselves from foxes and coyotes at night. It does not provide protection from eagles though.
“Both bald and golden eagles are here during the winter and they will eat geese,” said Drut. “I have seen them take geese before, not a problem for them.”
The bird count, sponsored by the Medicine Hat Interpretive Program and The Society of Grasslands Naturalists, took place Dec. 16 and covered 24 territories. There were 37 participants plus some observing their own bird feeders, said Drut. Conditions were almost ideal with mild temperatures and little wind.
A total of 58 species were identified in the bird count representing the fifth most ever counted, and is slightly more than last year.
There were three species with higher counts including the northern flicker with 167 sightings — an 18 per cent increase. The previous high was 143 in 2014, he said. There were 130 blue jays counted — a 73 per cent increase — and 321 black capped chickadees — a 17 per cent increase.
In contrast the house sparrow had the lowest low count ever with just 460, a drop of 19 per cent, said Drut. One possible explanation is the competition of the house finch which was not here until the mid 1990s.
“They probably are competing for the same food and nesting situation,” said Drut.
There were a couple unusual sightings including a grey cat bird in Police Point Park.
“It’s a common bird here in the warm months but we never see it this late in the fall,” said Drut.
The sighting of a brambling, a finch-like bird, was also exciting. It is from Eurasia and although there have been sightings in Alberta, not very many. This bird was first picked up on camera footage by homeowners who have a bird feeder and a water feature in their garden. After that the residents made a point of watching for it and it appeared again.
A winter walk in Police Point Park is ideal for some bird watching, said Drut.
Birding Trails of Southeastern Alberta, by Grasslands Naturalists, is a handy tool with detailed birding maps. This can be downloaded from the website.
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