COUNTS

MFN sponsors three annual one-day nature counts, the Gravenhurst-Bracebridge Christmas Bird Count, the Baillie Birdathon, and the Bala Butterfly Count. Read on to find out more about these counts and how you can participate, as well as to find information on other nature counts you may wish to try.
GRAVENHURST-BRACEBRIDGE CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT
The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science survey in the world. Ornithologist Frank Chapman organized the first "Christmas Bird Census" on Christmas Day in 1900, to replace the long-standing  holiday tradition of the "Side Hunt", in which sportsmen chose sides, and went out to kill as many birds as possible. The winning side was the team with the greatest number of dead birds at the end of the day. Thankfully, Chapman's conservation minded count gained popularity, and today tens of thousands of volunteers count birds in over 2,300 count circles across North America. The data collected is critical to studying how bird populations have changed over the past one hundred years.

In 1980, Bob Bowles and Al Sinclair, founding members of MFN, inaugurated an Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Muskoka. On the cold morning of December 21, nineteen participants set out from Gravenhurst and over the course of the day counted 1139 birds of 29 species, later reconvening at the Lucky Eleven restaurant in Gravenhurst for a celebratory dinner and count tally. Unusual species observed that day were Northern Goshawk and Rusty Blackbird. In 2005, the Club celebrated its 25th annual Christmas Bird Count and the tradition continues!

As of the 2013 count, a cumulative total of 87 species has been observed, with an average of 2523 birds of 34 species being tallied each year. The count circle is centred between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, and now participants are divided into a Gravenhurst team and a Bracebridge team, with the team recording the lowest number of species being awarded the infamous "Plastic Owl Trophy", a not too subtle reminder of an earlier count incident involving the misidentification of a pole mounted owl decoy as a live bird!


A number of good "finds" have been recorded during the counts, including Red-throated Loon, Gadwall (below left - Al Sinclair), Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher, and Harris's Sparrow (below right - Bill Dickinson).
A number of interesting trends have been noted in the data collected from our counts. Numbers of previously common species, such as House Sparrow, House Finch, and Evening Grosbeak have declined dramatically in recent years, while Mourning Dove, Wild Turkey, and European Starling numbers have increased. As well, for the same counter effort, the average number of species observed in Muskoka in early winter has increased as has the average number of individual birds seen. In the 1980's, the average number of species observed was 29, in the 2000's it had risen to 34. The average number of individual birds seen in the1980's was 2075, and for the 2000's the average was just over 2500.

To view the complete set of count results for the Gravenhurst-Bracebridge Christmas Bird Count since 1980, search the Audubon Christmas Bird Count website.

If you would like to come out and join in the fun, please check our Outings page in the fall for details about the next count.
BAILLIE BIRDATHON
The Baillie Birdathon is organized by Bird Studies Canada and is the oldest sponsored bird count in North America. Participants identify as many species as possible within a 24-hour period during the month of May and help to raise money for bird research and conservation. Participating conservation organizations, such as MFN, receive 25% of the funds they raise.

The first Baillie Birdathon held in Muskoka was on 22 May 1983, when 11 participants saw 90 species. It is not unusual to see over 100 species during the day long count. Traditionally, participants meet at Kerr Park and bird the Bracebridge Sewage Treatment Ponds (aka Lagoons) first, and then carpool and venture out to different areas of Muskoka. The idea is to count as many species as possible, so we try to visit a variety of habitats. It is a fun day of birding, bad puns, and snacking in the car, but most importantly, an opportunity to help the birds.

Young or old, beginning birder or seasoned observer, all are welcome to join in the fun. For details on the next Muskoka Baillie Birdathon, check our Outings page.


BALA BUTTERFLY COUNT
Since 1999, MFN has sponsored the Bala Butterfly Count as part of the North American Butterfly Association's program for education and conserving butterflies. More than 450 counts are held across Canada and the United States and the data collected provides critical information about the geographic distribution and population sizes of the species counted.

The 7.5 km radius Bala count circle is centred on the old Bala Post Office. Participants traditionally meet in late June/early July at the Ragged Rapids Road hydro parking lot and then carpool to different locations. They later reconvene to tally the day's count. On average, 2000 individuals of about 30 species are counted. The cumulative total of species observed since 1999 is 48.

If you would like to learn more about our local butterflies, consider joining us on this year's count. If you don't know a Great Spangled Fritillary from a Hobomoke Skipper, don't worry, as you will be teamed up with more knowledgeable participants. Please see the Outings page for uptodate information about meeting time and date.
Muskoka Field Naturalists
GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT
Each year, tens of thousands of participants from more than 100 countries around the globe count birds in backyards, local parks, and nature reserves to learn more about birds, connect with nature, and contribute to the understanding of birds. The GBBC is a joint project  of Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada. For more information visit the GBBC website.
PROJECT FEEDERWATCH
This count is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centres, and community areas in North America. Over 20,000 particpants make regular counts from November to April and submit their data to Project Feederwatch, which helps to track movements of winter bird populations and monitor the distribution and abundance of winter bird populations. Project Feederwatch is a joint project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Complete details can be found at the Project Feederwatch website.