The 117th Christmas Bird Count season is now over. As usual in January, I will discuss the highlights of some of the Maine Christmas Bird Counts. These standardized censuses provide an important tool to monitor the abundance of winter birds throughout North America and beyond.
I’ll concentrate on any changes in regularly wintering birds, the arrival of unpredictable invaders and records of any lingering birds whose wintering areas are well to our south. A rarity or two may pop up as well.
We’ll start with the southern Maine coast. The York County count was held on December 21. Thirty observers found 82 species of birds. Eighteen species of waterfowl were found with the most notable being four Wood Ducks and five Northern Pintail. The York County rocky coast is a stronghold for Harlequin Ducks in Maine; 65 of these lovely birds were counted.
Six species of hawks and eagles were spotted. One Red-shouldered Hawk was a nice find; most winter well to our south. One Rough-legged Hawk, a northern visitor, made a nice geographic contrast. Two Peregrine Falcons added to the diurnal raptor list.
Purple Sandpipers (329 to be exact) were the only shorebirds tallied this year. The only alcids were 22 Razorbills and five Black-Guillemots.
The relatively moderate climate of the York County coast usually has more lingering species than other areas in Maine. This year did not disappoint with a Great Blue Heron, three Belted Kingfishers, a Northern Flicker, 152 Eastern Bluebirds, a Gray Catbird, two Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Rusty Blackbird.
The most remarkable species this year was an Eastern Screech-Owl. I suspect this species will increase in Maine as our climate warms.
Greater Portland usually takes top honors for the most species on their count. Eighty-eight species were tallied this year despite the snowy conditions on December 17. Twenty species of waterfowl were present with the most notable being a lingering Snow Goose and Wood Duck.
Only two Red-throated Loons were present along with 66 Common Loons. No alcids, not even a guillemot, appeared this year.
A lone Glaucous Gull was the only northern gull in attendance. A Merlin and two Peregrine Falcons were found.
Lingering, half-hardy species included a Northern Harrier, an American Coot, two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, six Northern Flickers, a Gray Catbird, two American Pipits, a Black-throated Blue Warbler (an extraordinary find), three Rusty Blackbirds and a Common Grackle.
The Pemaquid count was held on the same day as the Portland count. A total of 64 species appeared. Highlights were three lingering Wood Ducks, 80 Purple Sandpipers, 158 American Robins, a Northern Mockingbird, two Fox Sparrows and an Eastern Towhee.
Twelve Black Guillemots were the only alcids found and only three species of gulls were tallied. I expect the heavy snow throughout the day had something to do with that.
The Mount Desert count was also held on that snowy Saturday. Fifty-three species were counted. This count usually has impressive Common Eider counts; this year 1,402 were counted. An American Wigeon was an unusual bird for this time of year.
Other lingering birds included a Northern Harrier and 133 American Robins. A Snowy Owl was a nice sighting.
The Lewiston-Auburn Count on December 18 yielded a total of 44 species. By late December on inland Christmas Bird Count, any still water is frozen. Counters have to seek out running water to find any waterfowl and typically waterbird diversity is low. The L/A counters found five species of waterfowl, with the 436 Mallards representing an impressive total. Five Common Loons were found, always an excellent find on an inland Christmas Bird Count in Maine.
Other notable sightings included a Merlin, a Peregrine Falcon and 82 Horned Larks.
The northern finches (Common Redpoll, crossbills, Pine Siskins) failed to appear on any of these counts. Not a strong irruption year so far.
Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at [email protected]
[First published on January 8, 2017]