Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Area Christmas Bird Counts Have Begun
December 19, 2015
By Steve Grinley
This past Monday marked the start of the 116th National Christmas Bird Count. Over the next couple of weeks, groups of birders, and individuals, will spend a day counting the number of birds in locations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Christmas Count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The information gathered on 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 census.
The first count was held on Christmas Day in 1900 and was conducted in 27 different communities – including three here in Massachusetts. Today, there are thirty-four Count circles in Massachusetts. Each Count circle is 15 miles in radius and, locally, there are Counts on Cape Ann, which is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday the 20th) and the Newburyport count is Sunday, December 27. Birds not seen on the day of the count, but seen in the “Count Week,” which is three days before and three days after, may also be included in that Count.
You may participate in a Count by joining a team in the field, or by reporting birds at your feeders. If you have an unusual bird at your feeders, do call the store and let us know and we will make sure that the Count Coordinators include your sighting in their Count. Of course you may see some unusual people also staring at your feeders through binoculars trying to count all your sparrows and finches.
This should prove to be an interesting count year. The milder than normal weather has kept many fresh water lakes and ponds open, and duck numbers could be strong. The milder weather and ample food supply up north has also delayed winter migrants such as bald eagles, snowy owls and winter finches from arriving in Massachusetts in any significant numbers.
Only a few snowy owls have been seen in the Plum Island/Salisbury area so far, but maybe the count will turn up more. There have been a few short-eared owls around, but whether they will “show” for the Count remains to be seen. Few bald eagles have been spotted yet this season as the lakes and rivers up north are also still open for fishing for the eagles, delaying their need to fly retreat to our areas of open water.
This hasn’t been an irruption year for winter finches in our area as of yet, though a few common redpolls and pine siskins have been seen in recent weeks. This may change as the winter progresses, but probably not in time for the Christmas Counts.
The Christmas Counts often turn up some rare birds and this year will likely be no exception. There have already been some rare birds in Eastern Massachusetts in recent weeks including Ash-throated flycaychers, Townsend’s solitare, mountain bluebird, yellow-throated warbler and even two white pelicans in Newburyport harbor! Often something rare or unusual will appear at backyard feeders, so be watching your feeders closely. A black-throated blue warbler was reported at a feeder on High Road in Newbury last weekend.
So don’t be surprised to see people with binoculars walking around your neighborhood on Count day, trying to peer at your bird feeders. After all, they need to count every chickadee, goldfinch, cardinal and junco!
I wish all the Counts good weather and good birds. And I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a New Year full of amazing birds!
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