Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Area Christmas Bird Counts Start this Weekend
December 13, 2014
by Steve Grinley

     This recent cold is sure driving the birds to our feeders. This is the time of year when you may glance out to your bird feeders in your front or side yard and happen to notice other people standing in the street looking at your feeders with binoculars. You’ll be witnessing one of the more exciting birding events of the year – the annual Christmas Bird Count. The 115th CBC begins this week and continues through the end of the year. Groups of birders, and individuals, count the number of birds throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

     The Christmas Count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The results of the Christmas Bird Count is the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of data, and reveals trends of winter bird populations. More than 50,000 observers participate in this all day census. The first count was held on Christmas Day in 1900 and was conducted in 27 different communities- including three in Massachusetts. Today, thirty-four Count circles are entirely or partially in Massachusetts. Each Count circle is 15 miles in radius and, locally, there are Counts in Andover, which takes place today (Saturday the 13th), Cape Ann, which is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday the 14th) and the Newburyport count is Sunday, December 21. Birds not seen that day, but seen in the “Count Week,” which is three days before and three days after, may also be included in that Count.

     You can participate in a Count by joining a team in the field, or by reporting birds at your feeders. There is a Countdown at the end of the day when all the teams in a Count circle gather to add up their numbers.

     This should prove to be another interesting count year. This hasn’t been an irruption year for winter finches in our area as of yet, though common redpolls, purple finches, and pine siskins have been seen in recent weeks There have been a few scattered reports of evening grosbeaks, but it has been almost twenty years since evening grosbeaks have shown up at bird feeders in any numbers, so it will be fun to see if any are counted this year. These Christmas Counts often turn up something rare at backyard feeders, so be watching your feeders closely.

     Only a few bald eagles have been spotted in the lower Merrimack Valley area and on Plum Island as the waters further north have not frozen over fully yet to drive more eagles here. There have been reports of multiple snowy owls on Plum Island, Salisbury Beach State Reservation and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. The Count numbers won’t match last year’s record totals, but there should be strong numbers reported. There have been a few short-eared owls around, but whether they will “show” for the Count remains to be seen. 

     Numbers of sea ducks, as well as loons, grebes and a few alcids seem to be building offshore for the count. Fresh water lakes and ponds have yet to freeze so the Count should tally decent numbers of diving and dabbling ducks.

     Many folks are still entertaining bluebirds and robins in their yards and there seems to be an abundant crop of winterberry, privet, crabapple and other wintering fruit for these, and other fruit eating birds. Local mockingbirds and cedar waxwings, as well as visiting white-throated sparrows are consuming the fruit as well. 

     If you have any interesting birds in your yard or at your feeders, or if you wish to join a Count in the field, you may call or E-mail the Count compiler. Today’s Andover Count Compiler is Donna Cooper, 978-470-2717. Tomorrow’s Cape Ann Count Compiler is Jim Barber and Jim can be reached at capeann@hotmail.com. Next week’s Newburyport Count Compiler is Tom Young at 603-424-4512 or tomyoungnh@gmail.com. If you have questions or would like additional information, you can also contact me at the store. 

     So, if you see a few of people with binoculars walking around your neighborhood the next couple of weeks, you can rest easy that they are only interested in your birds!

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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