Sunday, 23 June 2013

6000 "county ticks" for Ontario

Just over a month ago, Mike Burrell wrote a post on his blog about his successful quest for 6000 "county bird ticks" for Ontario. What does that mean? Simply put, a birder's total county ticks is the sum of their individual life lists for every county in a given area. For instance, if someone has seen 200 species in Essex County, 100 in Norfolk County and 100 in Chatham-Kent, then they have 400 total county ticks.

For some reason, birders often love lists. A life list contains every species that a birder has seen in the world. Probably most birders keep one. Having a list to look back upon is a great way to remember each and every species along the way, and it can also instigate a bit of friendly competition. Other common lists that birders keep include country lists, provincial (or state) lists, and yes, even county lists. Often, a birder will keep year lists for one or more areas as well.

While I find there to be a lot of enjoyment in birding apart from keeping lists, I still enjoy keeping them. Maybe it is the obsessive-compulsive side of me, or perhaps a competitive streak in comparing your list with someone else's. But right from the start, I kept a life list, Ontario list, Ontario year list, etc. I never really started caring about county lists until Ebird made it possible. Now with just the click of a mouse, it is simple to view just about any list of yours that you could imagine! Ah, the wonders of the interwebs.

So eventually, I started keeping track of my county lists in Ontario just for fun. One great feature of Ebird is that it will calculate what your total county ticks are for a given state or province, saving you from doing the work! And so for the past couple of years I have kept an eye on this feature as my total county ticks for Ontario climbed over 4,000 and then 5,000 last spring. I kind of half-heartedly made 6000 a goal of mine, just because!

Ontario has 50 "census divisions" that are either called counties, districts, regional municipalities, etc. I will just refer to them as counties in this post. So to have 6,000 total county ticks, one would have to see an average of 120 species per county! That involves quite a bit of travel, and as such it is a good gauge to estimate how much traveling and birding one has done in Ontario.

This morning I finally hit 6000, with #6000 being a singing Northern Parula in Timiskaming District as I was doing a breeding bird survey near Gowganda. One great thing about my job is that I am sent all over the province to do bird surveys, and so I cover a lot of the counties! A few fun stats:

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Highest 5 County lists

294: Essex County

  • I lived here for two summers, and it also happens to be home to Point Pelee National Park, a favoured haunt of mine.
  • Some highlights: Painted Bunting, Vega Gull, Townsend's Warbler, Curlew Sandpiper, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Trumpeter Swan x 2 (including the first record for Point Pelee), Bell's Vireo, Great Gray Owl
  • Big misses: Purple Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Shrike
  • Most recent: Piping Plover (May 12, 2013)

244: City of Hamilton
  • Another one of Ontario's heaviest birded counties, and only 15 minutes from where I have lived for most of my life. Consequently, I have done a fair bit of birding here.
  • Highlights: Northern Hawk Owl, Barn Owl, all the geese and all the grebes, Lark Sparrow, Black Vulture, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Solitaire
  • Big Misses: Sandhill Crane, Ruddy Turnstone, Blue-headed Vireo, Cliff Swallow, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, etc. Lots of easy one left!
  • Most recent: Yellow-billed Cuckoo (June 13, 2013)
236: Municipality of Chatham-Kent
  • Home of Rondeau Provincial Park, and not far from my home away from home of Point Pelee.
  • Highlights: White-winged Dove, Lark Sparrow, American Avocet, Worm-eating Warbler, Magnificent Frigatebird, Eurasian Wigeon, Eared Grebe
  • Big Misses: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Purple Finch
  • Most recent: Lark Sparrow (April 24, 2013)
220: Wellington County
  • Not exactly a bird mecca, but I did my undergrad at Guelph and lived there for two of the years. 
  • Highlights: Parasitic Jaeger, Connecticut Warbler, Mountain Bluebird, Harris's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee
  • Big Misses: White-winged Scoter, Northern Goshawk, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Most recent: Black-billed Cuckoo (June 12, 2013)
215: Regional Municipality of Halton
  • Right next door to Hamilton, and consequently another county I visit somewhat frequently. Basically any county on the Great Lakes has a much higher species list than the landlocked ones.
  • Highlights: King Eider, Eared Grebe, Red Knot, Long-tailed Jaeger, Prairie Warbler
  • Big Misses: Sora, Dunlin, American Woodcock, Least Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Lincoln's Sparrow
  • Most recent: Least Bittern (June 13, 2013)
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Lowest county lists:

0: Kenora
6: Haliburton
31: Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry
37: Lanark
43: Manitoulin

In fact, most of my eastern Ontario county lists are pretty sparse. I could easily add a few hundred with a weekend trip out east in May or June!

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200+ species: 8 counties
150+ species: 13 counties
100+ species: 31 counties


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What is the record? To be honest, I have no idea. I don't know if there are any serious "total county tickers" in Ontario, though it seems to be a somewhat common hobby in the states (likely due to the smaller area to cover in most of the states). I suppose if someone was really dedicated, they could see 200 species in every county in Ontario over the course of a lifetime, with over 300 for some of the counties. Maybe 12,000 would be possible.


So that's about all I have to say about that! I don't really plan on going out of my way to boost my "total county ticks", but it's just a fun thing to look at when I am sitting in a hotel room in Timmins, bored out of my mind! On an unrelated note, go Blackhawks!!!!

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