Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Weather Dampens Christmas Bird Count
January 09, 2010
By Steve Grinley
     Tom Young of Merrimack, New Hampshire is the compiler for the Newburyport Christmas Bird Count. He summarized this year’s Count in this way:

     “The 72nd Newburyport CBC was conducted on Sunday, December 27, 2009 on what could, without exaggeration, be depicted as an utterly wretched day, weather-wise–at least until about noon…There was steady, sometimes fairly heavy, and often wind-driven rain throughout the a.m. hours, and one of the effects of the conditions was that, for the first time in the modern era (post-1980 or so), NO owling was done on this Count. Not unexpectedly, then, given these difficulties, the 50+ misery-impervious, resolute observers recorded a number of species (95) and a total number of individual birds (18,290) that were both considerably below average for the modern era. Nonetheless, all-time high counts were achieved for three species: Sanderling, American Robin, and Red-winged Blackbird. The Dovekie seen at the mouth of the Merrimack River [Tom later corrected this as seen in the lower Plum Island Sound] was only the 6th record in the Newburyport CBC’s history, as was–coincidentally–the Chipping Sparrow observed in Rowley.”

     In reviewing the data, the duck numbers were down considerably, some of this due to the frozen lakes and ponds for dabbling ducks. A highlight was a lone wood duck which is always a treat anytime in the winter. No snow geese were seen this year (38 last year) and even the 1278 Canada geese numbers were about half of last years tally. Loons and grebe numbers were also way down this year.

     The number of wild turkeys was up there at 99, but no ruffed grouse or pheasants were found again this year. Two great blue herons braved the cold weather to be counted, as did one American bittern. Turkey vultures were a rare sight in our area anytime of year only a couple of decades ago, but now a small population even winter in Essex County with 6 individuals making the Newburyport Count. Five adult and one immature bald eagles were counted, and that number hasn’t climbed in the past couple of weeks. Again, sadly, no kestrels made the Count, though one female was seen last week in Salisbury by the Mass Audubon Wednesday Morning Birding group and another, or the same one, was seen in Newburyport this week.

     Although, as Tom mentioned, no owling was done due to the bad weather, the Count did find one great horned owl, one long-eared owl and three snowy owls. A screech owl and a barred owl were found during Count Week, which includes the three days before and after the day of the Count. Two kingfishers apparently found enough open water and a pileated woodpecker was found, despite overall lower woodpecker numbers.

     Most of the songbird numbers were down from previous years, including most of the feeder birds, again probably due to the weather. Highlights included 28 bluebirds, 4 catbirds, 2 meadowlarks, 280 red-winged blackbirds and a lone grackle. Northern winter finches have not made an appearance in the Bay State yet this year, and only 16 purple finches were found on the Count. 

     A most interesting report this week, too late for the Christmas Count, is an ovenbird visiting a backyard in Groveland.  This is a warbler that spends most of its time in the woods, feeding on or near the forest floor.  It usually arrives in May and leaves our area by September.  A rare winter visitor indeed!

     If you are interested in seeing a bald eagle or a snowy owl, I’ll be leading a free afternoon trip tomorrow, Sunday January 10 for Eagles and Owls. We will search the Merrimack River for eagles and then head to Salisbury or Plum Island to try to find snowy owls. We meet at 1:00pm the Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle in Newburyport. No reservations are necessary – just show up. Families are welcome. Dress warm and bring binoculars and a field guide if you have them. Hope to see you then!

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