2023 Heffley Lake Bird Count

2023 Heffley Lake Bird Count

By Doug Broadfoot

Read the background here

Our count has finished for our 15th consecutive year. Once again, all participants were original volunteers with the addition of one new backup person. Thanks to all. The numbers reflect the species observed during seven counts conducted from May 13th to August 13th. Overall, there was an increase in numbers compared to 2022.

Goldeneyes: More were spotted this year than have been seen for years. Once our second most abundant duck, their numbers declined to almost nothing before starting to rebuild.

Mallards: Mallard numbers continued to increase after reaching a low point in 2017. This was our second most abundant year since we started recording and comparable to numbers in 2010.

Hooded Mergansers: Fewer were observed this year and a further drop from last year. They reached a high in 2021 and have been in decline since. We’ve noted a correlation between Goldeneye numbers and Hooded Mergansers. Both are diving ducks and as Goldeneye numbers dropped, Hooded Mergansers rose. Then when Goldeneye numbers started to increase again, Merganser numbers started to decline.

Buffleheads: None were seen last year so seeing a few this year was an improvement. They reached a peak in 2019 after many years of low numbers. This was the most seen since 2017.

Ring – Necked Ducks: This is the second year in a row that we haven’t seen any.

Red – Necked Grebes: One more sighting than last year. Most years since we started counting, we don’t see any although historically, they used to reside and breed here.

Lesser Scaups: None were seen as per normal although we had sightings in 2021.

Loons:  There was a drop in numbers compared to last year. For the second year in a row, no chicks survived. Predators and people disturbing the nests appear to be the cause. Also, for the second year in a row, an adult loon was found dead. Autopsies showed both died of blunt force trauma, likely a strike from a boat or sea-do. People have witnessed sea-doers chasing loons. Please report any such behaviour.

Geese: Their numbers were up over last year when they departed early without nesting but still well below numbers in 2021.

Eagles: There was a drop in numbers from last year. For some reason they abandoned their nest on the south side of the lake and rebuilt further to the west. One young eagle was observed in the nest.

Herons: There was a significant drop in numbers from last year and our lowest count. Predation, mostly by eagles seems to be the reason for the decline.

Ospreys: More were seen this year and it appears that two nests were successful in raising young. Even with the increase, their numbers are half of what we observed in 2009.

Turtles: Their numbers dropped slightly from last year but still the second highest recording.


2023 Heffley Lake Bird Count


This was one of the few years we didn’t need to reschedule any of the sighting dates due to weather.

Included with this year’s statistics, several other years are included to show comparisons. The numbers in the CHANGE column are in reference to the 2022 count.

                                      2009          2013          2019          2022          2023          Change

Total Sightings:          1051            504            593             557            656            + 99

(not turtles)

Chicks:                          303             199            239             178            243             +65


Selected Species:

Goldeneyes:                181               63               29                45               70             +25

Mallards:                      339             116             239              228             294             +66

Mergansers:                   19                0               62                82               64              -18

Buffleheads:                  12                 1               18                  0                 6               +6

Necked Ducks:              29                 0                 0                  0                 0                 0

Red-Necked Grebes:      0                 0                 4                   1                 2               +1

Loons:                          107               79               78                 77               71               -6

Geese:                           50              166             105                 62             105            +43

Eagles:                           26                 7               23                 36               25              -11

Herons:                          42                49                8                 16                 3              -13

Ospreys:                        31                28              21                 10               16               +6

Turtles:                           53                50            200               260             244               -16



Note: Chick numbers are approximate due to difficulty distinguishing adults from young as the season progresses. Turtle sightings vary considerably between sunny days when we see a lot compared to a few on heavy overcast days.    


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