Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Rare Winter Visitors Sought on Christmas Bird Counts
December 15, 2018
By Steve Grinley
The 119th Christmas Bird Count has begun and runs from Dec 14 to January 5. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, teams of birders and individuals count birds for one day, throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. 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.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is the Cape Ann Count and the following Sunday, Dec 23 will be the Newburyport Christmas Bird Count. Teams of counters, each assigned their own section of a fifteen-mile radius circle, will be tallying all the species of birds seen, and counting the number of individuals of each species. This is the time when every house sparrow, chickadee and mallard duck is counted. At the end of the Count day, all of the teams 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 tracked.
This year should be an interesting Count. Portland, Maine still has a Great Black Hawk in one of its city parks. The hawk is native to Mexico, and South America and it represents the first record of the species in North America. Photographs confirmed that it is the same bird that appeared in Texas in late summer and was rediscovered near Biddeford, Maine in October.
It disappeared again, only to be refound in South Portland several weeks ago where is seems to finding plenty of squirrels on which to dine. A local Red-Tailed Hawk is not pleased with its presence, but birders have been traveling from afar to see this rarity. Local birders have been hoping that it will stay to be included in their Christmas bird Count.
More locally, we have had some rarities of our own. Two White Pelicans were seen on Plum Island a couple of weeks ago. Another, or one of the same, pelican was seen fling south by Wells Maine earlier this week and was seen the next day at Rye, New Hampshire. Hopefully it finds its way to our area for one of our Christmas Bird Counts.
Some late Sandhill Cranes have been seen, presumably migrating south. One was recently seen along Route 95 in Danvers and another was in the median strip along Route 495 in Merrimac earlier this week. Whether these, or other cranes will appear for one of our Counts remains to be seen. I don’t ever remember one in years past.
There are still some Turkey Vultures around and they are getting be more regular in the winter here. We had one fly over our yard in Essex the other day. More unusual though is a Black Vulture that have been “hanging out” at the transfer station in Rockport and sometimes seen flying over the town and near Duncan Donuts. It was seen just a day or so ago so hopefully it will remain for Sunday’s Count.
It is developing into a remarkable “finch winter” here this year. So there should be good numbers of them counted in each of our area circles. Many are still feeding on the seeds conifers and deciduous trees as well as crabapples. A number of them are finding their way to bird feeders.
We have had one or two Pine Siskins joining our Goldfinches at our Nyger feeders in Essex. Redpolls are being seen on Plum Island and throughout the area. A number of Crossbills are also being seen in the area, so hopefully some of the teams will happen upon those nomadic birds.
Most exciting are the numbers of Evening Grosbeaks that are being seen, and heard, all over Essex County. A few were feeding on Crabapples on Plum Island this past week. Some are finding their way to feeders, including in Rowley and Merrimac.
One lucky home in Ipswich has had regular visits of Grosbeaks for the past week or more. They started with just a few coming to their platform feeder for sunflower, with more birds arriving each day. Last count was over forty Grosbeaks! This is reminiscent of the 1970’s and 80’s when large flocks of Grosbeaks were more regular winter visitors. It has been more than ten years since we have had an irruption of these gorgeous birds to our area.
A few Pine Grosbeaks and even Bohemian Waxwings have also shown up this early in the season. And, who knows, maybe a Boreal Chickadee or Gray Jay may find its way to Essex County! So yes, all the Starlings, Crows and Juncos will be faithfully counted on our Christmas Bird Counts but, hopefully, some of these rare winter visitors will add to the excitement of this year’s tallies!
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