Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Mild Weather Aids Area Christmas Bird Count
January 10, 2009
By Steve Grinley
This year’s Newburyport Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 28. Eight teams of birders covered areas from Salisbury to Ipswich and from Plum Island to Groveland and Boxford. The weather reached a balmy 61 degrees, just short of a record. Early morning winds made owling difficult and resulted in lower owl numbers, but the pleasant daytime weather made for some very good birding.
A total of 111 species of birds and 27, 016 individuals were counted, which was higher than average for the Count. Another 4 species, (glaucous gull, dovekie, yellow-bellied sapsucker and common redpoll), were seen during Count week, which includes 3 days before and after the Count.
No extremely rare birds were found, but there were three birds recorded for only the second time in the Count’s 71 year history. They were the common raven, house wren (normally a summer resident here) and vesper sparrow. There were record high counts for a number of species – most noticeably several birds that have expanded their ranges northward into New England. These include 30 turkey vultures, 47 red-bellied woodpeckers (also obvious from the number of customers reporting them at their feeders for the first time) and 67 Carolina wrens.
Also achieving record high numbers for the count were 1644 mallards, 11 bald eagles (though larger numbers of eagles are often seen in January and February), 36 northern harriers, 111 wild turkeys, 314 white-breasted nuthatches, and 9 winter wrens. On the other end of the scale, the American kestrel was absent this year, for the second year in a row, reflecting this bird’s decline in our area.
Average numbers of loons, grebes and gannets were seen off the coast, but only 3 great cormorants were counted. One American bittern and three wintering great blue herons were found. There were 36 snow geese around that day, and 5 mute swans were seen. A single wood duck was discovered in Groveland.
In addition to the high counts of eagles and harriers, one red-shouldered hawk, 7 rough-legged hawks, 4 merlins and a single peregrine falcon were counted. The more common red-tailed hawk was well represented with 62 individuals counted within the 15 mile radius Count circle.
As I mentioned before, the owl counts were down with 7 Eastern screech, 7 great-horned, 4 snowy, only 1 barred, and 4 short-eared owls counted. No saw-whet or long-eared owls were found during the Count period.
For the backyard feeder enthusiasts, 218 downy woodpeckers, 32 hairy woodpeckers, 740 blue jays, 1012 black-capped chickadees, 441 tufted titmice, 171 song sparrows, 249 tree sparrows, 226 white-throated sparrows, 708 dark-eyed juncos, 303 northern cardinals, 233 house finches and 746 American goldfinches were counted. Of course there were also 535 rock pigeons, 7025 European starlings, and 1480 house sparrows to spoil your day. There were 81 pine siskins seen on Count day, but more and more of these striped little finches are showing up at feeders all over Eastern Massachusetts in the past weeks. We are experiencing a winter invasion of this species, so keep an eye on your thistle feeders for these birds feeding with the goldfinches.
Other interesting birds of note were 2 pileated woodpeckers, 2 marsh wrens, 70 Eastern bluebirds, 7 hermit thrushes, 766 American robins, 1 gray catbird, 2 Northern shrikes, 1 Eastern towhees, 10 field sparrows, 1 vesper sparrow along the road to Kent’s Island, 1 fox sparrow, and 50 white-winged crossbills. Again, nothing rare, but there were some very nice birds found on a mild winter day, birding along with friends and comrades.
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