Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Results of Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count by Cliff Bennett





Photo by Lise Balthazar

The 18th Annual Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird count was highly successful this year. Held always on December 30 (except once due to icy conditions), the Count is centered on Watsons Corners and forms a circle within a 15 km radius. Sixty persons took part in the Count, 36 out in the field and 24 counting at their feeders. These 60 people counted 3 872 birds from 39 different species.

How does this compare with past results over 18 years? The record number of people counting totaled 62 in 2016; the record number of birds counted were 4 276 in 2010 and the record number of species listed was 42 in 2012. So, all in all, 2020 was a very good year.

One new species, a pied-billed grebe was listed for the first time. This bird was found in open water just up from the bridge at the foot of Dalhousie Lake. A record tying number of barred owls (6) and northern harriers(1) was tallied, tied with 2010 and 2009 respectively and this year the record number of trumpeter swans (16) was broken, up from (8) found in 2016. The Count leader this year was Jeff Mills, from Cedar Hill, and the feeder count leader was Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids Road. Marcel Gauthier, Almonte, compiled and published the count figures. Congratulations to the participants of the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count for this valuable contribution to North American citizen science work.

It was a German scientist in 1855, followed by others, who suggested birds were capable of detecting the earth’s magnetic field and using geomagnetism to guide them on migration. An early experimenter placed a small magnet on a bird’s wing prior to migration. The bird became totally disoriented and, on another note, adding to my series about bird migration theories (in the Lanark Era):

In the 1960’s, experimenters enlarged on the magnet trial by placing non-magnetic bars on several groups of homing pigeons and magnetic bars on others. They were taken a few hundred miles from home and released under heavy clouds to cut out the influence of the sun. The pigeons without magnets came home to their roost five out of seven times while those with magnets failed miserably. These studies showed magnetism influences bird behaviour; but does it help with migration?

In the 1980’s, at Cornell University, under strict experimental rules, scientist were able to prove, using Indigo buntings and Swainson’s thrushes, that birds at least initially orient themselves to the magnetic field when embarking on migration. It seems then, that the jury is still out on this intriguing aspect of how birds migrate. Next column, I’ll tell about migration theories using stars, sun and moon.


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Local Area Christmas Bird Counts



Announcement by Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists


Once again it is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count season!  This is the 121th year of Christmas Bird Counts and there are three planned for our area; Rideau Ferry, Carleton Place, and Lanark Highlands. Birders and nature enthusiasts in the three CBCs and surrounding areas can join citizen scientists throughout the world and participate in the Audubon Society’s longest-running wintertime tradition, the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  Thousands of individuals participate in counts beyond between December 14 and January 5 each year. Every CBC volunteer is an important contributor, helping to shape the overall direction of bird conservation.  Birds Canada and its partner, the National Audubon Society in the United States rely on data from the CBC database to monitor bird populations.

The CBC tradition began over a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history.  On Christmas Day in 1900, the small group proposed an alternative to the ‘side hunt,’ a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals.  Instead, Chapman suggested that they identify, count, and record all the birds they saw, founding what is now considered to be the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation effort.   The first Audubon bird count in Carleton Place took place in 1944.

Volunteers are essential to the success of the CBC. You don’t need to be an expert but it helps to be familiar with local bird species.  This year will be very different as the counts will need to be done in line with all local health guidelines regards COVID 19.    For the count day it means first and foremost no one should participate unless they are showing no symptoms and feel safe doing a day in the field.  Secondly, field observers should only share the same vehicle with others if they are safe doing so. Thirdly all participates should have a mask available whenever required.  Finally, there will be no count meeting at the end of the day.  Instead each coordinator will arrange to distribute the results to participants. For more information or to register for the CBC at any of the 3 count circles please contact one of the following CBC Coordinators:

Count Date CBC Coordinator Contact
Rideau Ferry Dec 19th Alison Bentley
Carleton Place Dec 27th Iain Wilkes
Lanark Highlands Dec 30th Jeff Mills

Best of the Season to All

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2019 Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count  – Final Tally

The 16th annual Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC) took place on January 4th, 2020. The normal annual date of December 30th had to be changed due to freezing rain conditions.

The total number of birds counted and recorded this year was 3008 birds, lower than the highest count, in 2010, of 4276, but only 3 fewer than 2017. The total number of species recorded was 35, 4 more than last year. Over the sixteen years of conducting the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count, which started in 2003, a total of seventy-five species has been recorded. The lower number of species can generally be attributed to the absence of waterfowl in the area on count day owing to the severe cold weather and freeze-up of most water areas.   This year, although there was some open water on Mississippi River and Dalhousie Lake, there were no water birds reported.

By L. Balthazar

There was a good count of bald eagles (around 7) although not a record. The record was two years ago (2017) with a count of 17. All other raptors were absent except two red-tailed hawks, a Cooper’s hawk and five barred owls.

The feeder count had the same number of species as last year (23) but over 400 fewer birds. It was a good year for ruffed grouse (16). The record was in 2013 (38).  This year’s count was the third best for blue jays (586). The record was 641 in 2013.  This was only the third year that white-winged crossbills were spotted.  All other birds in the finch family were absent except goldfinches. They are still up north in the Boreal forest because of an excellent food source.

Sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC) takes place every December 30th no matter the weather except this year. The field counters take to the roads and fields to register every bird seen or heard within a twelve kilometer radius centered on Watson’s Corners. The circle is divided into four equal sections each with a Section leader.  Special thanks to Ian Paige, Jeff Mills, Ramsey Hart, Rémy Poulin and Pip Winters who serve as Section Leaders, and to Lise Balthazar who organizes the Feeder Count.   Everyone did a great job especially when we had to suddenly change the date. All of the volunteer leaders, feeder counters, field counters and coordinators are to be commended for spending the entire day as citizen-scientists. 

Thank you to Michel Gauthier for setting up his laptop and screen at the Lanark Civitan Club and entering the data so that everyone is able to see the results as they come in, and to Cliff Bennett for doing the final audit of the results. His contribution throughout the count since the Lanark Highlands count began, including his inspiration and encouragement to area birders, is immeasurable. 

The Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count is one of over two thousand counts held across North and South America and is the largest citizen-scientist activity anywhere in the world. All records are stored with the Audubon Society and used for research and conservation programs. For further information or a complete list of the tally, please contact Cliff Bennett at or count coordinator Marilyn Barnett at .  If you know birds by sight or sound and would like to participate in next year’s count, please get in touch in early December 2020.

Submitted by Marilyn Barnett

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Field Naturalists Form New Bird Count Area in Lanark Highlands

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Cliff Bennett
Friday, Nov.28, 2003

Field Naturalists Form New Bird Count Area in Lanark Highlands

Cardinal (Photo Credit:  Sandra Bauer)Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have been around in the Western Hemisphere since the year 1900. Three count circles (71/2 mile radius) have been operating for decades in Lanark County and area including Carleton Place, Rideau Ferry and Pakenham.

A new count circle, designed to fill a large gap in Lanark County, is being established by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) in the Lanark Highlands area, centred on Watson’s Corners. This circle will take in Brightside to the north, most of Dalhousie Lake to the west, south to within a km. of Balderson and east to include Middleville. Activities in this new circle will be on a trial run basis for this year, with the first formal count being conducted in 2004.

A count is conducted by interested birders forming into teams and combing the roads, trails and woodlots during the count day to record every bird seen or heard. The results compiled for Canada are sent to Bird Studies Canada. CBCs take place all over North and Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. This annual event produces a definitive census of our bird population and is used for many research and conservation programmes designed to encourage the continuing health of our avian friends.

The date for the new Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count will be Tuesday, Dec. 30. All persons interested in the health of our local bird population, are invited to join in on the count. Teams will be formed, each team with a more knowledgeable birder. They will be assigned a count area and will spend the daylight hours counting every bird they see or hear. At the end of the day, all will gather at the Nature Lovers Book Store in Lanark Village, to record their findings and enjoy hot refreshments.

Residents in the count circle who have active bird feeders can also take part in the final tally. To register for the feeder counts, contact the feeder coordinator Marj. Gilmour, 259-3078 before the tally date. Then, on Dec. 30, feeder watchers will count every bird coming in to their feeders or appearing in their yard and phone in their resulting tally to Marj. These numbers will be totalled and added to the main count from the field observations.

Count coordinator for this first count is MVFN Director Cliff Bennett, . To register for the field count, contact Cliff at 256-5013 or by e-mail

For further information, call Cliff.

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