by Al Sinclair

The 23rd Gravenhurst-Bracebridge Christmas Bird Count was held on December 15, 2002 with 34 observers in 10 groups covering the 24 km diameter circle centred between the towns. The weather was not good for counting birds, steady snow most of the day. The birds were not moving around as much as normal making them harder to find. 2548 individuals were found of 33 species, slightly below the previous 10 year averages of 2949 individuals of 36.7 species. There was an early onset of winter conditions this year, snow cover was 38 cm., and there were few areas of open water except Lake Muskoka. The feeders were less active than other years but more birds were found in the rural areas probably because the berry and cone crop was very good across central Ontario this year.

The most common birds? European Starling 446, Rock Doves (aka pigeons) 431, and Black-capped Chickadee 414. Chickadee numbers were slightly lower than last years 568 but Blue Jays at 294 were at their highest number since 1986. American Crows numbers were about average at 88. There have been concerns elsewhere that West Nile virus might be affecting the numbers of Chickadees, Jays and Crow. It appears that it's not affecting bird numbers noticeably in the Muskoka area. The most common finch this year was the American Goldfinch at 222. Other finches recorded were Purple Finch 4, Evening Grosbeak 11, and White-winged Crossbill 5.

We had one new species this year (not found on any of the previous counts), Wild Turkeys (8) were found on Taylor Rd east of Hwy 11 near Bracebridge. A Bobwhite found at a feeder on Cedar Lane was also new but was not counted as it was certainly an escaped captive raised bird. New count highs were recorded for Northern Cardinal (8, 3 in Gravenhurst and 5 in Bracebridge), Golden-crowned Kinglet (8), and Barred Owl (3).

There were several good finds including the Barred Owls. One Barred Owl was seen in a tree near Finch's gravel pits on Fraserburg Rd., another was in a tree behind a house in the Meadow Heights subdivision in Bracebridge (confirmed by a photo), and one was seen exiting a back yard on Peterson Rd. The Doe Lake Rd. area east of Gravenhurst had Northern Goshawk, White-throated Sparrow, and Snow Buntings (31). Two immature Greater Black-backed Gulls were at the Gravenhurst Landfill and two Red-tailed Hawks were at the Bracebridge Landfill. A total of four Pileated Woodpeckers were seen and two Brown Creepers. The only House Sparrows (14) were found in the Equidome barn on Fraserburg Rd. Their numbers are continuing to fall in all areas of Muskoka.

On count day we missed three Bald Eagles that were frequenting a deer kill somewhere near the Muskoka Sands on Saturday. Also on Saturday, an American Robin was seen on Golden Point Rd near Bracebridge, a Canada Goose was on Spence Lake Drive where there was no open water, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk was seen on Muskoka Beach Road. On the Wednesday after the count a Song Sparrow turned up on Glendale Rd in Bracebridge.

The team competition between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge was close again. This year Bracebridge won with 28 species, two more than Gravenhurst's 26. Gravenhurst captain Dan Burton graciously acknowledged defeat and congratulated Al Sinclair and the Bracebridge team. However, earlier in the evening when Bracebridge was cheering their success in finding Wild Turkeys, a troublemaker on the Gravenhurst team boldly proclaimed that there was a lot of "Turkeys" in Bracebridge. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the event ended with best wishes to all.

The potluck supper following the count was attended by about 40 counters and MFNers and was well organized again by Heather Harris and her team of helpers. Thanks to everyone for making it a great day.


GRAVENHURST TEAM G1-Janice House, Moira Payne, Don Philip
G2-Eleanor Kee Wellman, Dan Burton, Sylvia Purdon
G3-Pauline & Jim Goodfellow, Cyril & Marion Fry
G4-Rosemarie Hinzmann, Naomi, Eric & Ron Stager
G5-Carol & Gil Hunter, Margaret Beard
species seen = 26, individuals counted = 1122
B6-Heather Coupland, Bob Burton, Stephanie Lehman
B7-Bill Dickinson, Joan Paget, Al Sinclair
B8-Doug Smith, Kathy Dyer , Nick Bartok
B9-George Moroz, Jim Griffin, Linda Boon, Ingrid Schulz
B10-Joan Spence, Lou Spence, Virginia Pray, Ken Pray
species seen = 28, individuals counted = 1426

WEATHER: Steady snow, -1/+2 C , SNOW COVER 38 cm (15"), WIND light
TOTAL PARTY HOURS: 66.5 hrs, 50.5 hrs. by car, 16 hrs. on foot
TOTAL PARTY KM: 674 km(421mi), 654 km(409mi) by car, 19.5 km(12mi) on foot