Pre-dawn blast off!

Jan. 14, 2022 under very clear skies, light winds, and temp at 28F; sunset time 5:11PM

Special thanks goes out to a remarkable father/son team of Richard and Jeff Skevington, who have overseen the Woodstock, Ontario Christmas Bird Count for many years. It has been a pleasure to communicate with them for over a year, and to collaborate with them on the recently published Crow Counting Guide (download guide from main page). Although Jeff was out of the country, Richard was happy to make time to meet in person, and visit the local staging areas. Richard is a long time member of the Woodstock Field Naturalists Club. the Club has been organizing the local Christmas Bird Count for almost 50 years. In recognition of decades of service and leadership, the Club proclaimed Richard and his wife as Honorary Life Members. Photo of Richard below while watching flight swirls at dusk!

First stop to meet Dick was along the east end of Pittock Reservoir on the south side by Oxford Road with a few thousand Crows landing and mulling around on the ice. As we watched endless flight streams overhead, moving towards the west end of the reservoir, we moved on to take in the action. We landed on the southern shore line after parking by the curve at Landsdowne Ave. and walking a bit to the west, opening up stunning sunset sky views and colors. The Crows were multiplying on the ice, lifting off in flight from the north side, and bursting in flight all over. This image about 30 minutes post sunset time.

As growing numbers of incoming Crows were flying by to the west of our location, Richard prompted a move a bit further to the west, but still on the south side of the reservoir. We walked the trails down near the water’s edge to observe the incoming Crows, and then walked the shore further to the west to get a closer look at the Crows staging in trees on the north side, and to watch the huge flight swarm loops out over reservoir from the south side. After sunset time, the sapphire sky turned dazzling hues of yellow and orange. This remarkable image at 40 minutes post sunset time.

With guidance from Richard on possible overnight roost locations, arose early the following morning and arrived in search of the overnight roost. In talking with Richard, it seemed highly likely that the Crows were very close to the Pittock Reservoir and near an area with sufficient ambient lighting. The first stop provided an immediate hit with gentle murmuring Crows heard once the car door opened after parking near the end of Industrial Ave. With the help of night vision optics, was able to locate massive numbers of Crows in the wooded area behind, and to the NE of the rear of the Marwood International Corp plant. Shortly after arrival the vocalizations picked up and the morning flight bursts were unleashed. This image, looking north, at 60 minutes before sunset time.

The flight action and loud vocalizing was extraordinary and with over 80,000 Crows, unlike any other prior roost experience! The Woodstock CBC circle has had many years with Crows counts this high. Woodstock has always had one of the largest winter Crow roosts in all of North America. This image at just under an hour before sunrise looking to the east.

For the 2022 Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for the Andover Circle, this separate Crow Count was 13,750 Crows. In 2021, the CBC Andover Circle Crow Count was 12,250. Many thanks to Donna Cooper who coordinates and compiles the Andover Circle each year!

Note on counts/estimates: we are now using improved methods for counting the large number of Crows while streaming, staging, and in the roost. For all images, we use both a modified open source counting software program, as well as a hand count approach, while outside next to the roost, to carefully document our observations and to significantly increase reliability and accuracy of the presented numbers. Please refer to our new roost counting guide on main page.

Remember to check out the latest Crow Patrol Podcast with John Macone (Merrimack River Watershed Council):

Photo gear used for most outings:

Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS 

Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Infrared)     

Canon EOS R6 Mirrorless with Canon RF 28-70 f/2 L IS USM 

Canon EOS R6 Mirrorless with Canon RF 50 f/1.2 L USM 

Sony AX700 4K HDR Camcorder

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Blog post and photos by Craig Gibson, 2023 Crow Patrol