by Al Sinclair

The 24th Gravenhurst-Bracebridge Christmas Bird Count was held on December 14, 2003 with 35 observers in 10 groups covering the 24 km diameter circle centred between the towns. The count is a holiday tradition for birders in North America where this year nearly 2000 counts are scheduled and 50,000 people will participate. In Muskoka it was a windy and snowy count day that was not good for finding birds. Most were staying under cover except around bird feeders. The 1790 individuals counted was down considerably from the previous 10 year average of 2852. The total species count was 34, close to the average of 36.2.

The number of birds found on the bird count is affected by many factors. This year the bad weather on count day was probably the main reason for the low number of individuals. The common feeder birds, Black-capped Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were about the same as last year and have remained relatively constant over the years. However some other species do change significantly from year to year. This year Rock Doves, commonly know as Pigeons, were down to 133 in Bracebridge, a 63% decrease from last year. This was likely due to the town's Pigeon control program but the birds were also harder to find. After their main feeding station on Wellington Street was shutdown, they spread out across town and are now nuisances at many smaller feeders. Water birds, including gulls and ducks, were lower than usual, the most likely explanation being some early cold weather in December. Of more concern was the 90% drop in Blue Jays. Only 29 were found, the lowest number in the history of the count. American Crows were down to 25, a 75% drop. These two species are the most susceptible to West Nile Virus, which could be at least partly to blame. A good number of Blue Jays passed though earlier in the fall, so the poor berry and cone crop in the area may be the main reason for their exodus. The same applies to winter finches, with wild food hard to find, most left the area. Evening Grosbeaks were the most common finch at 53, mostly concentrated in the Barkway area east of Gravenhurst. A few small flocks of Common Redpolls were just starting to move in from the north, as were the 3 Pine Grosbeaks also tallied at Barkway. Both of these species were absent last year.

We had no new species this year and no new count highs but there were a few good finds. Two Common Loons were seen in a strange location, swimming up the Muskoka River near the Riverside Inn. Five Hooded Mergansers were on the river near Matthiasville. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was found in a yard on Muskoka Beach Rd in Gravenhurst, still enjoying his lunch, a small bird, maybe a Chickadee. A Red-tailed Hawk was seen at the Bracebridge landfill, likely the same one that has spent the winter there for several years. A Barred Owl was calling at dusk on Roxborough Rd. Five Wild Turkeys were counted at the old Muskoka Centre, a first for the Gravenhurst count area. A Northern Shrike was spotted at the top of a tree on Stephens Bay Rd. A concentration of feeders on Merkley Rd. near Barkway produced the only Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, and Goldfinches (4). Two Cardinals were found on Muskoka Beach Rd. in Gravenhurst, but the illusive Bracebridge Cardinals failed to show despite being seen the day before. Again this year, the only House Sparrows were found in the Equidome barn on Fraserburg Rd. The three most abundant species this year were: Black-capped Chickadee 539, Rock Dove 254, and European Starling 218.

As usual the counters were divided into a Gravenhurst team and Bracebridge team. This year Gravenhurst won the team competition with 28 species, two more than Bracebridge's 26. However it was pointed out before the final tally commenced that an irregularity had occurred during the count. Apparently some Gravenhurst counters were seen in the Bracebridge half of the circle. But since it could not be proven that they had actually counted Bracebridge birds, the results were allowed to stand. A potluck supper following the count was attended by about 40 counters and members of the Muskoka Field Naturalists and was well organized again by Heather Harris and her team of helpers. Thanks to everyone for making it a great day.



G1- Janice House, Moira Payne, Stewart Boyd
G2- Dinny Nimmo, Neil Nimmo, Sylvia Purdon, Jim Maguire
G3-Pauline & Jim Goodfellow, Cyril & Marion Fry
G4- Rosemarie Hinzmann, Ron Stager
G5-Carol & Gil Hunter, Margaret Beard
species seen = 28, individuals counted = 855


B6- Joan Spence, Lou Spence, Kathy Dyer, Ernie Giles
B7- Jim Griffin, Mary Willmot, Gerald Willmot
B8- Heather Coupland, Ingrid Schulz, Marc Casas, Al Sinclair
B9- David Wright, Pat Wright, Linda Boon, Bob Burton
B10- Art Clarke, Launi Clarke, Stephanie Lehman, Jon Grandfield
species seen = 26, individuals counted = 935

WEATHER: Steady snow, -7/-5 C, SNOW COVER 10 cm (4"), WIND 10 to 30 km/hr
TOTAL PARTY HOURS: 67 hrs, 53 hrs. by car, 14 hrs. on foot
TOTAL PARTY KM: 842 km (526 mi.), 824 km (515 MI) by car, 18 km (11 mi.) on foot