The 113th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count is now over.  Between December 14, 2012 and January 5, 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.

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 mostly open water through December, one might expect a good smattering of lingering waterbirds 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 good one for some of these occasional northern visitors.

The Greater Portland Count on December 15 produced a record-high 111 species.

Canada Geese were exceptionally abundant with 2,656 tallied.  Five species of owls, including Snowy Owl and Long-eared Owl, were impressive.  A Clay-colored Sparrow was a nice addition.

The count yielded a rich diversity of half-hardy species: one Ring-necked Duck, seven Great Blue Herons, five Black-crowned Night Herons, seven Turkey Vultures, one American Kestrel, two American Coots, three Belted Kingfishers, twelve Northern Flickers, six Carolina Wrens, one Marsh Wren, 30 Eastern Bluebirds, one Hermit Thrush, 30 Northern Mockingbirds, six Yellow-rumped Warblers, one Common Yellowthroat, one Yellow-breasted Chat, four Savannah Sparrows, one Swamp Sparrow, and four Red-winged Blackbirds.

The irruptive finches were well represented with two Red Crossbills, 17 White-winged Crossbills, 179 Common Redpolls and a near-record high 91 Pine Grosbeaks.

The Waterville Count was held on December 16 and produced a count of 60 species.  A couple of immature Great Cormorants at Fort Halifax were nice finds.  Lingering aquatic species included a male Northern Harrier, two Carolina Wrens, one Winter Wren, one Northern Mockingbird, a Common Grackle, and three Brown-headed Cowbirds.  A White-crowned Sparrow was an unusual bird for this count.

For winter visitors, the counters found an Iceland Gull, 110 Bohemian Waxwings, 104 Pine Grosbeaks, 642 Common Redpolls, and two Pine Siskins.

[First published on January 6, 2013]