The 2018 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (CBC) marked the 79th in its history. The weather for the day was about average. The morning was chilly and damp with a low of -16.3 C. The wind tried to pick up in the morning but halted early and it warmed up throughout the day to a high of -8.5 C. Sunny skies provided great viewing conditions for the 61 birders that got out with area leaders, making this year’s CBC the highest attended, surpassing 2016’s 46 volunteers.

Despite the great viewing conditions and the record number of birders, the general consensus of December birding also continued for count day and count week. For count day (on the 26th), 41 species were tallied marking it the lowest since the bitterly cold 2017 (36) and 2013 (39). For count week (23-29th) the total was just 43 species, which is considered a significantly low count week total. The 10-year average for count day is 47 species and for count week 50 species. 

As usual, the 61 birders were subdivided into 14 areas within the 15-mile diameter count circle. Amongst the field parties, the counts were more even across areas than in past years. The highest species count was 22 and that was tallied in Area 1 (Current River), Area 11 (Mapleward west), and Area 13 (Jumbo Gardens). Next highest was Area 9 (Mountain Road/Loch Lomond) with 21 species and Area 7 (Chippewa) with 20 species. The average species count for an Area was 18. Lowest species total was Area 4 (Innercity) with just 9. Highest individual bird count was in Area 11 (Mapleward west), which is often the case because it includes the John Street landfill. Lowest individual count was Area 6 (McKeller and Mission Island). Feeder watchers counted 16 species.

Where were the birds? It’s actually kind of tough to sort out. Overall, the total number of birds counted (6909) was just below the 10-year average of 7718. For that 10 year span, it’s actually the median count. There were also significantly high counts of Bald Eagle (169), Downy Woodpecker (61), Pileated Woodpecker (17 - record tying), Boreal Chickadee (6), White-throated Sparrow (5), and Dark-eyed Junco (30), the latter 3 species also being good birds for the count. And there were also rarities, including both Area 2 and 3 reporting the Townsend Solitaire (7th time counted on the CBC) that had been spending the fall and winter at Marina Park. Area 12 (Golf Links and west to Mapleward) was rewarded with early hour owling and reported a Great-horned Owl (9th count) and a Barred Owl (7th count). Area 11 also reported a count day first, a Long-eared Owl, previously only counted during count week in 2016. 

No bird species that were counted were counted at significantly lower numbers than normal. European Starling was the most counted species (1275), followed by Rock Pigeon (1194) and Black-capped Chickadee (788). 

Obviously some species were absent. Some more common CBC bird species that were not counted included Evening Grosbeak (first time since 1956), Common Grackle (41 count weeks, last reported in 2016), Snowy Owl (50 count weeks, last reported in 2015), Purple Finch (37 count weeks, last reported in 2017, White-winged Crossbill (36 count weeks, last reported in 2017), and Mallard 29 (29 count weeks, last reported in 2017). 

Eight mammal species were observed, with 91 red squirrels topping the list. 74 white-tailed deer were seen. Other mammal sightings included eastern gray squirrel (and black variant), red fox, snowshoe hare, gray wolf tracks, otter tracks, and small rodent tracks.

The total count can be viewed in table format by clicking here.

I wish to thank the participants that attended the 79th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Nick Escott and family for hosting the potluck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and clean-up run so smoothly! Until next year!