Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Christmas Bird Counts Highlight Holiday Season
December 13, 2008
Steve Grinley

     If you look out your window on the Sunday after Christmas, you may see some warmly dressed folks out in the street staring at your feeders with binoculars. No, it’s not the feeder police. It is likely a team of birders on the annual Christmas Bird Count. This is the 109th year of the Christmas Bird Count and the Newburyport Count takes place on December 28th, encompassing 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 individuals. Yes, this is the time when every starling, chickadee and rock pigeon is counted.

     So a team may walk or drive by your property and count the number of juncos, blue jays and cardinals coming to your feeders. You can contribute to this count by calling in the birds at your feeders. You must be careful not to “double count” birds. This is most easily done buy taking the highest number of individuals that you see at any one time. It will be up to the team or Count coordinator to ensure that a team doesn’t also count your birds if you keep count. The count is also interested in unusual birds that are seen during “Count Week” which includes the three days prior and three days after the actual day of the Count. If you wish to participate, contact the Newburyport Count coordinator, Tom Young, at 603-424-4512 or e-mail to rustysnaketail@yahoo.com.

     At the end of the Count day, all of the teams covering all of the surrounding towns gather to add up their numbers. Those totals are then entered into a grand data base which includes all of the previous years’ totals. In this way, trends in bird populations can be identified. As in previous years, once this year’s totals are available, I’ll share them with you.

     Tomorrow, Sunday, is the Cape Ann Christmas Bird Count. I usually help out in a sector that is not too exciting, around Hamilton and Wenham. Those who have the coastal sectors may see king eiders, harlequin ducks, alcids and plenty of gulls.. We, however, will spend time counting chickadees, tufted titmice and downy woodpeckers in our inland sector. We did have a pileated woodpecker in years past and a late yellow-bellied sapsucker, and we usually see some bluebirds as well. So there is no telling what we might encounter. It is fun to be out and the weather is supposed to cooperate this weekend!

     There are a few unusual wintering birds for the counts this year. There have been a couple of catbirds on Plum Island this week, along with a hermit thrush and a brown thrasher. A yellow-breasted chat has also made it into December on the Parker River Refuge as well as at the Halibut Point State Park in Rockport.. So if you do have a fruit feeder, you may end up with more than resident mockingbirds dining in your yard this winter.

     If you’re entertaining out-of-town guests in the coming weeks, you may want to take a drive down Plum Island or around the Newburyport area. There have been at least two snowy owls being seen regularly on the Refuge and another at the Salisbury State Beach Reservation. Also on the island, a light morph rough-legged hawk, two short-eared owls, and a northern shrike have been seen recently. Eagle sightings along the Merrimack River have been sparse so far this season, but their numbers should increase as the temperature drops and more ice starts forming. Since the waters are still open, Cherry Hill Reservoir still has ruddy and ring-necked ducks, as well as some mergansers.

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