Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

High Numbers of Feeder Birds Recorded on Christmas Count
January 10, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     The 77th Newburyport Christmas Bird Count was held on the Sunday before Christmas, December 21. The Count Coordinator Tom Young, provided the following summary:

     “More than 40 participants in the field, as well as 17 feeder-watchers, recorded 114 species and 30,822 individual birds with 7 additional species recorded during count-week. That is the 4th-most species in the history of the count; 121 were recorded in both 2001 and 2012. 

     “Many species were recorded in record-high numbers, particularly “feeder birds” such as the still-increasing “new arrivals” Red-bellied Woodpecker and Carolina Wren; and several unusual species were seen, such as the 2nd-ever Greater White-fronted Goose and the first-ever Cackling Goose. 

     “On the negative side American Kestrel, although seen during count week this year, has in the 21st century started to become a non-presence on the Newburyport count; the species was recorded on every count from 1938 through 1999 but has been missed 5 times since. The Eastern Meadowlark meanwhile, missed this year for…the 21st time, is also going the way of the kestrel. American Black Ducks continue to trend steadily downward in numbers, as well.” 

Here are some other highlights noted by Tom:

“Wild turkey 108 (3rd-highest # behind 111 in 2008 and 125 in 2011)

Great Egret 1 (3rd record: 3 in 2011, 1 in 2012)

American kestrel cw (missed on count day for the 10th time, all since 2000)

Greater yellowlegs 1 (6th record)

Razorbill 250 (record high #, surpassing 215 in 2002)

Barred owl 5 (ties record high # set in 2003)

Red-bellied woodpecker 99 (record high #, surpassing 68 in 2013)

Yellow-bellied sapsucker 2 (7th record, all since 1998)

Downy woodpecker 347 (record high #, surpassing 232 in 2013)

Hairy woodpecker 43 (highest # since 47 in 1979)

Northern flicker 45

Pileated woodpecker 10 (record high #, surpassing 5 in 2013)

Common raven 2 (7th record, all since 1997)

Carolina wren 87 (record high #, surpassing 71 in 2013)

Marsh wren 7 (record high #, surpassing 5 in 1991)

Eastern bluebird 163 (record high #, surpassing 156 in 2012)

American robin 2706 (record high #, surpassing 1858 in 2009)

Gray catbird 4

Pine warbler cw (6 records in count history)

Chipping sparrow 3 (8th record and record high #; previous high # was 1)

Clay-colored sparrow 1 (2nd record; also recorded in 2002)

Dark-eyed Junco 1467 (record high #, surpassing 782 in 2013)

Northern cardinal 458 (record high #, surpassing 342 in 2006)”

      Interesting is the high numbers of woodpeckers. This was not a trend, however, with any of the other area counts. 

     With the Christmas counts done and the calendar turned to a new year, we began 2015 with a bang. Tom Wetmore discovered a prairie falcon on Plum Island on the morning of January 1st. Those who began the New Year on the island were lucky enough to see this first record for Massachusetts. 

     Other rare carry-overs from the previous year include a Townsend’s warbler enjoying a suet feeder just outside the fence at the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Further south, another western bird, a Townsend’s Solitare, was found again in a cemetery in Marion. A tufted duck continues in with a large flock of scaup in a pond in Falmouth. On Tuesday of this week, a black-backed woodpecker was found in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. I remember seeing that bird during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Massachusetts, but few have been found here in recent years. Worth keeping an eye out for!

     Closer to home, a male king eider may still be found within the large raft of common eiders in the mouth of the Merrimack River, best viewed from the Salisbury side. The greater white-fronted goose was still being seen with Canada geese near the Artichoke and Cherry Hill reservoirs in West Newbury. Snowy owls and a barred owl continue on Plum Island though the increased ice may make it a bit more difficult to find the former. A lucky reader also had a barred owl in his back yard off Turkey Hill Road this past week. 

     The colder weather has brought many more birds flocking to the feeders. Be sure to keep your feeders full during this frigid weather and check carefully for any unusual visitors. 

     The freezing temperatures are driving more eagles down to our area. This cold snap is also freezing many parts of the Merrimack River, making it a bit easier to spot the bald eagles. One Plum island resident watched four eagles sharing (more or less) a meal on the ice in the harbor, near the northern part of the island.

     If you would like to join me to search for some eagles and owls, I will be leading a FREE bird walk next Saturday afternoon, January 17. We will meet at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle here in Newburyport at 1pm. We will carpool to spots along the Merrimack River and to Plum Island or Salisbury where we will search for bald eagles, snowy owls, and other winter visitors. Beginners and families are welcome. Dress warmly and bring binoculars or a scope if you have one. Hope to see you then!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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