The Big Picture: Point Counts Then and Now

Point Count on Canoe Lake Road – June, 2013

For us, 2013 will be remembered as the year of the point count. We’ve now finished up the last of a whopping 260 stations. This includes our own established suite of 164 on and offroad stations but also a new set conducted for our collaborative assessment of Cerulean Warblers with Bird Studies Canada. We’ve yet to enter and mine the data but a few things are clear: a) an overall decline in forest bird abundance has occurred; b) trends are positive for some species but negative for more; and c) You can almost always count on a Red-eyed Vireo or two to liven up a survey!

From 260 Point Count surveys this summer, a total of 576 Red-eyed Vireos were tallied. So often we tend to focus on less prodigious species and those showing signs of decline. However, the stability and ubiquity of the Red-eyed Vireo in the Americas is compelling and worth appreciating. Here at home in the Frontenac Arch they seem to be thriving in forests where others have thinned out if not vanished altogether. This round of surveys struck a note – these are prolific, feisty, robust survivors serving an important ecological role in hardwood forests. They are also the current record-holder amongst world bird species for most songs in a day – 20,000!

Sugar Maple – Red Oak Stand near Birch Lake

I’m beginning to let go of the notion of “normal” with respect to weather. We’re now in the middle of our fifth spring/summer season and we’ve yet to have a complete season without at least one extended period of extreme conditions. This year has been “abnormally” wet. In fact, water levels have never been so high since we began our studies in 2009. This boom and bust weather must take something of a toll on breeding bird productivity. Cerulean Warblers are clearly down from levels detected in 2009 and we’ve talked at length in the past in a similar vein regarding Louisiana Waterthrush and Prairie Warbler. However, the picture isn’t quite so gloomy across the board. A number of species are actually up from previous years including Blackburnian Warbler and Brown Creeper. It will be very interesting to dive into the data in the coming months to get a better handle on what’s happening – stay tuned for more details in the future.

Sugar Maple – Ash – Ironwood Stand near Big Salmon
Arkon Lake

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