WORDS ON BIRDS
Local Christmas Counts Bring Birders Together
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Wishing you and your
family a happy and healthy holiday season and a New Year filled with
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