The 112th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count is now over. Between December 14, 2011 and January 4, birders picked a day to count as many birds as possible in a circular area, 15 miles in diameter. These count circles are visited each year, providing a valuable snapshot of changing bird populations over time.
This column is the first of three in which I will describe some of the notable sightings of the 30+ Christmas Bird Counts (hereafter, CBC’s) conducted in Maine this year.
The Christmas Bird Season really offers us a look at bird abundance in early winter; results would likely be different if the counts were conducted in mid-February.
When analyzing Christmas Bird Count results, I find it useful to divide birds into three groups. The first group includes the resident birds like Black-capped Chickadees and American Crows. Have there been any changes in their population size compared to previous counts?
Then there are lingering migrants, sometimes called half-hardy species. Most individuals will spend the winter well to our south but often stick around in Maine until deteriorating weather conditions or the freezing of lakes force them southward. With the mild fall and mostly open water through December, one might expect a good smattering of lingering birds on this year’s counts.
Finally, there are winter visitors that migrate in some years from more northerly areas to spend a “balmy” winter in Maine. These birds include Great Gray Owls, Snowy Owls, Bohemian Waxwings, Northern Shrikes and the northern finches like Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills. This year’s counts indicate the current winter is a poor one for these occasional northern visitors. An exception is the Snowy Owls; these birds have staged an invasion of the northern states (see http://tinyurl.com/6p4gpzz).
The Augusta CBC (December 17) produced a list of 58 species, well above the count average of 46 species. There was enough open water to hold lingering Common Loons (5), one Great Blue Heron and one American Coot. Six Buffleheads and a Red-breasted Merganser are nice sightings at this time of year for an inland location.
Lingering landbirds included a Northern Flicker, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, eight American Robins, four Eastern Bluebirds, a Northern Mockingbird,
One Glaucous Gull and five Iceland Gulls were nice winter visitors.
Three Bohemian Waxwings were tallied along with 80 Cedar Waxwings. Northern Finches were scarce with a single Pine Siskin.
The Lewiston-Auburn Count (December 17) produced a count of 52 species. Notable aquatic species included four Common Loons, two Horned Grebes, four Bufflehead, 35 Ruddy Ducks and 55 (a new maximum count) American Coots.
A Peregrine Falcon was a nice find. Five Bald Eagles were the only other raptors found this year.
An impressive list of lingering landbirds was produced. Counters found a singing (!) Carolina Wren, three Eastern Bluebirds, a Hermit Thrush, 101 American Robin, a Gray Catbird and one Northern Mockingbird.
In what will be a familiar refrain in these summaries, northern finches failed to show. One Purple Finch, 43 House Finches and 145 American Goldfinches were the only members of the finch family found this year.
The Waterville Count was held the following day and produced a count of 56 species. Lingering aquatic species included five Common Loons, two Great Blue Herons and two American Coots. Other half-hardy birds were two Carolina Wrens, two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 125 American Robins, 11 Eastern Bluebirds, and two Northern Mockingbirds. A few Song Sparrows are usually found lingering on this count but none were found this year.
For winter visitors, one site in Clinton produced an Iceland Gull, a Glaucous Gull and a Snowy Owl. A young, light-phase Rough-legged Hawk was a great find.
The northern finches were sparse with 18 Pine Siskins and a lone Common Redpoll counted.
[Originally published on January 8, 2012]