For the Birds – Christmas Bird Counts II
This column is the second of three on the results of the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Counts (CBC’s, for short) conducted throughout the state of Maine. Each count could be conducted on any day between December 15 and January 5.
We’ll start with the excellent Portland CBC, conducted on December 16. A new record for total species was set this year: 105 species. One of the highlights of the count was the 26 species of waterfowl. Three species of geese (Snow Goose, Brant and the expected Canada Goose) was noteworthy. Other unusual waterfowl included a lingering Wood Duck, a pair of Gadwall and a single Barrow’s Goldeneye among 282 Common Goldeneyes. Four of the five species of Maine bay ducks (the genus Aythya) were found: Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup.
Other highlights of the count were a Pacific Loon, a Greater Shearwater, three Turkey Vultures, and a Virginia Rail. Five Dovekies made a nice addition to the more expected alcids, Razorbills and Black Guillemots. Eight species of diurnal birds of prey included five Northern Harriers , two Merlins and three Peregrine Falcons.
Lingering songbirds included a pair of Hermit Thrushes, 27 Eastern Bluebirds, a Gray Catbird and a Red-winged Blackbird. Orange-crowned Warblers stray to Maine on occasion; one was found on the Portland CBC.
The Bath-Brunswick CBC, also held on December 16, resulted in a total of 83 species. Surprisingly late birds included eight Great Blue Herons, a Turkey Vulture and an American Kestrel. A Black-headed Gull and 169 Black-legged Kittiwakes headed the total of six gull species. A total of 169 Razorbills was notably high.
Very few Maine CBC’s can boast of two species of wrens. Bath-Brunswick counters found a single Marsh Wren and Carolina Wren. Snow Buntings and Common Redpolls have not appeared in significant numbers this winter in Maine. Single individuals were found for both species.
Yet one more December 16 count, the Mt. Desert CBC, yielded 63 species. Fifteen species of waterfowl were sighted along with two hybrid ducks. One, a Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid, occurs quite commonly and is certainly underreported. In fact, some waterfowl biologist fear that American Black Ducks are being genetically swamped by interbreeding with the far more common Mallards. But the other hybrid on this CBC is quite remarkable, a Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser.
Other notable birds included a late Great Blue Heron and a Glaucous Gull. Raptor highlights were two Peregrine Falcons and two Snowy Owls. Songbird highlights included an American Robin, a Pine Warbler to go along with the four Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Fox Sparrow and a fine count of 31 White-winged Crossbills.
The December 18 York CBC produced a total of 74 species. Highlights were a Pacific Loon, a pair of Mute Swans, 16 Dovekies, 71 Razorbills and four Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Notable songbirds included 25 Horned Larks, four Carolina Wrens, a Rub-crowned Kinglet, 26 Eastern Bluebirds and six American Pipits.
The December 26 Eastport CBC count provides a dramatic case of how weather can affect a bird count. The weather on Count Day was hardly conductive to birding: temperatures in the 30’s with gusty winds and driving rain. Only three intrepid counters participated this time. Despite the poor visibility and the difficulty in hearing birds, the Eastport counters tallied 40 species. Three Double-crested Cormorants were found along with the more expected 30 Great Cormorants. Four Northern Gannets were a nice find. Only five Bald Eagles were counted this year; two years ago counters found 111 of these birds of prey.
Only eight Bonaparte’s Gulls and two Black-legged Kittiwakes were found this year. Normally, these birds occur in the thousands in the rapidly moving water between Eastport and Campobello Island. The only alcids found were a pair of Black Guillemots.
Finding songbirds in inclement weather is even tougher than finding waterbirds. Not surprisingly, the Eastport counters found modest numbers of landbirds. For anyone who has birded in this part of Maine, the counts of the following species will be unrepresentative of actual abundance: one Common Raven, 58 Black-capped Chickadees, one Red-breasted Nuthatch and 46 American Goldfinches. Researchers using the CBC data to gauge changes in population numbers clearly must take the weather on count days into consideration.
Three birders flew to Matinicus Island on January 5 to conduct a CBC there. A total of 38 species were tallied. Notable species included two lingering Northern Flickers, 29 Yellow-rumped Warblers, two Swamp Sparrows, eight Red Crossbills and 31 White-winged Crossbills. The counters found 31 European Starlings, a reminder that this introduced species has remarkable colonizing abilities.
[Originally published on January 19, 2007]