The 124th Christmas Bird Count (CBC), sponsored by the National Audubon Society, conducted between December 15, 2023, and January 6, 2024, is now history. The data provide us with information on the status of our regular winter residents, the number of northern birds coming south to seek food, and the number of summering birds that have ignored their normal migrate-by date. A rarity or two always spices up a count.

The Waterville CBC on December 17 produced a fine total of 60 species, well above the average. There was plenty of open water, so waterfowl put on a good show. Ten species were found including record highs for Canada Goose (361) and Buffleheads (28). The rarest were pairs of Greater Scaup and American Wigeon. The eight Common Loons were also a record high count.

Three Barred Owls were tallied along with a dozen Red-bellied Woodpeckers (all-time high) and a lingering Northern Flicker. Record high counts were set for five species that left the state to overwinter in the past: Carolina Wren (9), Eastern Bluebird (19), American Robins (180), White-throated Sparrow (65) and Savannah Sparrow (6).  The only northern finches were 21 Purple Finches and 13 Pine Siskins.

The Bunker Hill CBC yielded a fine total of 62 species. Thirteen species of waterfowl were present, including 334 Canada Geese (an all-time high count), a Northern Pintail and all three of our diving ducks in the genus Aythya: 11 Ring-necked Ducks, 29 Greater Scaup and one Lesser Scaup.

Lingering birds including two Turkey Vultures, a Red-shouldered Hawk, and a Belted Kingfisher.

The only alcids were a pair of Dovekies. A great find!

Six species of woodpeckers were found including a lingering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and seven Northern Flickers.

Notable records for the songbirds included all-time high counts for Golden-crowned Kinglets (41), Eastern Bluebirds (151) and White-throated sparrows (70). A Swamp Sparrow, an Eastern Towhee and a Red-winged Blackbird would normally have migrated south.

The only birds of northern affinity were 21 Purple Finches and three Red Crossbills. The 638 American Goldfinches were a new high count.

The Thomaston-Rockland CBC on December 17 produced 79 species. Nineteen of those were waterfowl, including some unexpected species: one Gadwall, two Ring-necked Ducks and a Ruddy Duck.

Only one Red-throated Loon was found among the 103 Common Loons. Horned Grebes outnumbered Red-necked Grebes, 31 to 4.

This count produced a long list of lingering birds that were induced to delay their southward migrations. These included two Great Blue Herons, two Turkey Vultures, a Belted Kingfisher, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, an American Kestrel, a Carolina Wren, two Northern Mockingbirds, a Pine Warbler, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, two Savannah Sparrows, eight Red-winged Blackbirds, a Baltimore Oriole. Climate change, anyone?

Birds of northern origin included a Northern Shrike, two Red Crossbills and three White-winged Crossbills.

Continuing downeast, we find that the Blue Hill CBC on December 17 produced a list of 65 species.

Fifteen species of waterfowl were dominated by Mallards (416) and American Black Ducks (417). Two Northern Pintails and a Ring-necked Duck were notable finds.

The Common Loon count of 56 was a new count record but Red-throated Loons were no-shows. The only grebes were three Red-necked Grebes.

Lingering non-songbirds included two Red-shouldered Hawks, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Northern Flicker.

Only one alcid was found along the shore but it was a good one: Common Murre.

The count had some half-hardy, lingering songbirds but the most striking songbird pattern to me was the number of species with new high counts. These species were Common Raven, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, and White-throated Sparrow.

The Mount Desert Island CBC had 60 species on December 15. The count had 13 species of waterfowl, all regularly occurring species. The most common were Mallards, Long-tailed Ducks, and Bufflehead.

Common Loons outnumbered Red-throated Loons, 111 to 2. Double-Crested Cormorants and Great Cormorants both appeared.

Lingering birds included a Great Blue Heron, a Northern Harrier, a Red-headed Woodpecker (!), and a Hermit Thrush. Birds of northern affinity included eight Bohemian Waxwings, four Purple Finches, and a single White-winged Crossbill.

The Unity CBC on December 16 produced a nice list of 52 species. Highlights among the seven species of waterfowl were four American Wigeons, a Greater Scaup and two Buffleheads. Two Common Loons found enough open water to stick around as well.

Northern Shrikes have mostly stayed to our north this winter so the singleton here was notable. Eastern Bluebirds have been wintering broadly across Maine this winter in impressive numbers. The Unity counters found 35. Other lingering birds included three Savannah Sparrows and a Swamp Sparrow.

Four northern finches were present, including an impressive 36 Red Crossbills in this non-invasion winter.

The Augusta CBC, also on December 16, yielded 59 species. Seven species of waterfowl included three Buffleheads (new high). The count of 18 Common Loons (new high) was made even sweeter by the sighting of a Red-throated Loon. The latter is rare inland in Maine in the winter.

Hardy lingering birds included three Great Blue Herons (new high), three Sandhill Cranes, a Northern Flicker, eight Carolina Wrens, 106 Eastern Bluebirds (new high), a Hermit Thrush, two Northern Mockingbirds, and three Common Grackles. But the most amazing lingering bird was a Blue-headed Vireo. Although this species is the last of our vireos to migrate south in the fall, but most have departed by Halloween.

An eye-popping 213 Bald Eagles were found, easily a new high for the count. Northern visitors included five Common Redpolls and a dozen Red Crossbills.

The Farmington count on December 28 tallied 38 species. Open water was hard to find so diving ducks and loons were long gone. The only waterfowl were Mallards and American Black Ducks.

Diurnal raptors sighted were three Red-tailed Hawks, four Bald Eagles and a Merlin.

This area seems to be a stronghold for Black-capped Chickadees. The total of 516 far outnumbered any other species.

Lingering species included 14 Eastern Bluebirds and 24 Cedar Waxwings. Two Bohemian Waxwings, our normal winter waxwing, are hopefully a harbinger of more of these beauties this winter. Pine Siskins were well represented with 55 individuals. Otherwise, this count was average, not many surprises but no alarm bells.

Let’s move to one of the Maine CBC’s with the harshest winter weather. The Misery Township CBC is located just to the south of Jackman. One would expect that the species diversity in this challenging habitat would be low. The nineteen species found on New Year’s Day was actually a pretty good total. I have participated in this count when only 14 species were found by multiple parties.

Two Bald Eagles were the only raptors. A couple of Gray Jays imparted a northern flavor to the count. American Crows (4) and Common Ravens (2) were scarce.

Black-capped Chickadees were the most abundant species with 124 counted. Runners-up were 34 Red-breasted Nuthatches and 33 Blue Jays. 

I have nothing but respect for a Common Grackle that was still sticking around. Northern finches included five Purple Finches, six Red Crossbills, 46 White-winged Crossbills and 53 Pine Siskins.

We’ll go now to the southernmost CBC in Maine. The Isles of Shoals CBC is centered on a few small islands that straddle the Maine-New Hampshire border about ten miles off the coast. Definitely a count for the hardy birder.

The count his year took place on January 1. Clear weather and calm seas made for a pleasant boat cruise. The counters did go ashore at Star Island for some land birding, but this count is really all about seabirds.

Highlights of the 37 species included 790 Common Eiders, 1936 Black Scoters (shattering the old record of 964), 68 Purple Sandpipers, a Pomarine Jaeger, 16 Atlantic Puffins (new high), 11 Common Murres (new record) and seven species of gulls. The five perching bird species surprisingly included a Carolina Wren and a Palm Warbler.