Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Area Christmas Bird Counts Reveal Many Highlights
January 01, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     The 110th Annual Christmas Bird Count was held this year across the country, and beyond. Teams of birders count the numbers of each bird species they find in their Count Circle, an area 15 miles in diameter. Comparing those numbers, and the changes that have occurred over the years, provides valuable data for conservation efforts going forward.

     Margo and I participated in two of those counts this year. On Sunday, December 18, the Cape Ann Count was held and we gave our usual assistance to our friend and fellow birder, Phil Brown, by helping him “count chickadees and titmice” in the sedate sector of Hamilton/Wenham. We did have a few unexpected highlights, however. We found a pair of pileated woodpeckers working the trees behind the Wenham Maintenance Garage. In the swampy area beyond, there were bluebirds, cedar waxwings and a couple of pine siskins in with a flock of goldfinch.

     Another surprise was when a male towhee popped up to the top of a brush pile as we were watching a large flock of juncos and white-throated sparrows. A Carolina wren sang from the same pile, but the towhee quickly disappeared and we were unable to relocate it.

     We also ended the day on a high note. We were getting frustrated by not having found a single wild turkey in this otherwise turkey-friendly territory. Late in the day we made one last trek (one of several that day) through a wooded area, when we heard a loud flapping of wings. A search of the woods uncovered a single turkey flying through the trees, apparently trying to find a roosting spot for the evening. And to top that, we were on our way out of the woods when we heard a great-horned owl calling in the distance. After a couple of minutes it was joined by another, obviously a mating pair calling to each other as the sun was going down.

     Last Sunday, the day after Christmas, the 73rd Newburyport Christmas Count was held despite the pending blizzard scheduled to arrive late in the afternoon. Margo and I assisted Tom Wetmore’s teams of birders on Plum Island before the early closure of the Refuge at Noon. We walked through the “New Pines” area across from the North Field, which is usually closed to access. This area was once a popular winter birding area as the pines attracted many winter finches, such as crossbills, as well as saw-whet owls.

     We had few highlights during our three-hour walk. We did manage to find a great-horned owl, a flock of cedar waxwings, and we had a couple of redpolls fly over us as we walked back along the road. Others on Tom’s team found more redpolls and an ovenbird, a first for the Count!

     Since the day-end compilation was cancelled, an “e-compilation was made and revealed a few good finds by other teams as well. All teams found a Count High total of 1810 mallards (is that a good thing?). Also found were 4 wood ducks, 4 turkey vultures, 8 bald eagles, 13 screech owls, 1 barred owl, 1 short-eared owl and NO snowy owls! A yellow-bellied sapsucker was found (for only the 3rd time in Count history) at the Oak Hill Cemetery, 7 American pipits, a common raven, and a yellow-breasted chat at the Newburyport Industrial Park. Not bad for an abbreviated count with the blizzard barreling down on us!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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