Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Area Christmas Bird Counts in Progress
December 21, 2019
By Steve Grinley
If you look out at your feeders tomorrow and notice some folks staring at your feeders from the street with binoculars, rest assured that they are not the feeder police. They are more likely a team of birders on the annual Christmas Bird Count, one of the more exciting and historic birding events of the year. This is the 120th year of the Christmas Bird Count and the Newburyport Count takes place tomorrow, Sunday Dec 22.
The count encompasses an area within a 15-mile radius of the city. Teams of counters, each assigned their own section of the circle, will be tallying all the species of birds seen, and counting the numbers of individual birds. Yes, this is the time when every chickadee, house sparrow and pigeon are tallied.
At the end of the day, all of the teams covering the circle gather to add up their numbers. The count also notes birds not found that day, but are seen during “Count Week” which includes the three days prior and three days after the actual day of the Count. The results of the Christmas Bird Count is the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of data, and reveals trends of winter bird populations.
Last Sunday, the Cape Ann Christmas Count was held. Robert Buchsbaum of Beverly was the Count Coordinator and he posted the following report on the results:
“The Cape Ann Christmas Count was held on Sunday, December 15. The weather clearly was a factor in the relatively low number of species (100) and individual birds (14,973) compared to other recent years. The temperature was congenial (between 41 and 48 degrees F, and there was no rain or snow, but the wind, steady at about 23 mph with gusts up to 48, clearly kept the bird numbers low and limited our ability to hear, particularly owls.
Nonetheless the 36 birders who participated saw some very nice highlights – a record high count of 9 Bald Eagles particularly stands out. On a sobering note were low numbers of Horned Grebes and Tree Sparrows. Gull numbers continue to decline, which hopefully bodes well for other species of beach nesting birds next spring. The Townsend’s Solitaire, which had been hanging around at Halibut Point was not located on Sunday but is included as a count week species.”
With much fresh water open this year, duck species were well represented, though not in high numbers, as Robert reported. Water birds of note included a Barrow’s goldeneye, 114 harlequin ducks and 2 king eider. A black-crowned night heron was found, as were 2 great blue herons. The 5 usual Alcid species were represented but only one “white-winged” gull – a Kumlien’s Iceland gull .
As Robert reported, owl numbers were down as night owling was near impossible with the wind. Only 5 screech (1 in our Essex yard), 3 barred, 4 great horned and 1 short-eared owl were found. No snowy owls were reported!
Even backyard bird numbers were down, but 23 bluebirds, 30 Carolina wrens, 1 hermit thrush and 1 catbird were counted. Only 2 purple finches were found, unlike the large numbers of winter finches around last year. There were 42 yellow-rumped warblers and 1 chipping sparrow and two remarkable sub-species: 3 Ipswich (Savannah) sparrows and 1 Oregon (dark-eyed) junco.
For tomorrow’s Newburyport Count, this past week’s colder temperatures may result in fewer duck species. Rough-legged hawks have been seen in Salisbury and on Plum Island lately, as have single, elusive snowy owls. A yellow-breasted chat was still lingering along the Dunes Loop of the Hellcat Trail on Plum Island before the cold snap. Hopefully it survived and is found tomorrow before the Hellcat Trails close on Monday (for the next year) for construction of new boardwalks. And, hopefully, some of these other area specialties will also be found tomorrow.
Other rare birds are nearby. A couple of Western tanagers are visiting feeders in Pelham and North Hampton, New Hampshire. A third one was seen in Plymouth, Massachusetts this week. With a painted bunting on Cape Cod and a rare Townsend’s warbler found in Watertown this week, no telling what might be found on tomorrow’s Newburyport Bird Count.
So a team may walk or drive by your property and count the number of juncos, cardinals and goldfinches coming to your feeders. Just maybe they might discover something rare!
Happy Holidays to all!