Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Local Christmas Counts Bring Birders Together
December 24, 2016
By Steve Grinley
The annual Christmas Bird Count is in full swing across America and beyond. Teams of birders cover sectors within the fifteen-mile radius circles that make up each of the Counts. All the teams in the Count then meet at the end of the day to tally the number of birds of each species that are found. This collective data can then be analyzed for trends in bird populations over time.
This endeavor is not only a “citizen science” project that has been going on for more than a hundred years; it is also a social event that strengthens the camaraderie in the birding community for all who participate. The close-knit teams that are out birding usually travel in one car, some starting before sunrise for owls, walking many miles together counting every bird that they encounter. They will sometimes break and have lunch at a local restaurant while others will park themselves near the water where they can count birds while consuming their box lunch in the car. There is also the social event at the end of the count as the teams gather for the day end tally. That often includes pizza, baked goodies and cider, and a lot of stories of the day’s highlights.
Locally, the Cape Ann Count was held last Sunday and the Newburyport Count will take place this coming Monday. The Cape Ann teams gathered at Gordon College in Wenham on Sunday evening to total the day’s efforts. The weather defied the forecast of pouring rain with only occasional sprinkles but mostly just cloudy skies for much of the day. Unofficially, they found 104 species for the day with not many surprises. There were no “new” Count birds found, and not many high Count records. The most interesting reports came from Choate or Hog Island where a Townsend’s solitaire was found, as well as the usually elusive long-eared owl.
The number of double-crested cormorants counted throughout the circle raised a lot of eye brows as this summer resident is usually almost all replaced by the wintering great cormorant by this time in December. One, or several double-crested may be found each year, but this years double digit findings had many second-guessing their identification.
Most of the surprises were about the birds that were not found. There were very few alcids (mostly razorbills) this year, unusual for Cape Ann this time of year. There was a total absence of winter finches (grosbeaks, crossbills, siskins and redpolls), even though there were scattered reports of some in the weeks before the count. Bohemian waxwings and northern shrikes were also not seen, which is more often the case.
Despite two teams searching the dunes at Crane Beach, the snowy owl that was there the week before was no where to be found. Even snow buntings were hard to come by on this day. There was also an absence of any hardy summer birds that seem to be increasingly trying to stay the winter. Individual orioles, catbirds, hermit thrushes, brown thrashers, and marsh wrens are often found on the Count, but not this year.
In contrast, there were good numbers of northern flickers reported. A yellow-breasted chat and a couple other warblers were found. Four ruby-crowned kinglets were also seen, when one is usually a surprise. The Carolina wren count was encouraging, as they seem to be slowly recovering from their devastating decline after the storms of two years ago.
It was clear as the counts were tallied that all the teams enjoyed the day, as all agreed that even counting chickadees and crows was great fun.
The Newburyport Christmas Bird Count is coming up on Monday and it includes areas north to Salisbury, west to Groveland and south to parts of Ipswich. If you are in this Count circle, I would encourage you to note any unusual birds that you might see at your feeders or in your travels on that day. If birds are not seen on the day of the Count, they can be counted in “Count Week” which includes three days before and after (Friday, Dec 23 to Thursday, Dec 29) the actual Count day.
You may call or email the store and we will let the Count Coordinator know of your sighting. Pictures and/or details of the bird are always appreciated.
Meanwhile, please remember the birds this holiday season. Help them survive the weather by providing them seed, suet, water, and shelter. Reward them for the joy that they bring into our lives all year long.
Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season and a New Year filled with wonderful birds!
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