This column is the first of two summarizing the results of some of the recent Christmas Bird Counts in Maine. The count period began on December 14, continuing through January 5. We’ll travel widely across the state today.
As you know, the weather in November and December was unusually mild. Most freshwater bodies of water were still open. We therefore expected the Christmas Counts to have some lingering species that normally would be further south. The open water could provide habitat for waterbirds that are usually forced south by ice on ponds and lakes.
The Augusta Christmas Bird Count (hereafter, CBC) took place on December 19 and produced 53 species. Common Loons have usually departed from this area by December but seven were found this year. Two Great Blue Herons were present as well. The count of 33 Bald Eagles was not too shabby. Four Iceland Gulls and a Glaucous Gull were found among Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.
Lingering landbirds included a Carolina Wren, three Eastern Bluebirds and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Not as many lingerers as expected.
This winter is shaping up as a poor one for irruptive species, those species that occasionally move south into Maine from areas to our north. The only irruptive species were a single Northern Shrike and six Pine Siskins.
The Lewiston/Auburn CBC was held on the same day. Counters there found 51 species.
Ten species of waterfowl were detected. The more unusual sightings were 20 Greater Scaup, 35 Lesser Scaup, 20 Buffleheads and one Barrow’s Goldeneye among the 39 Common Goldeneyes. The extensive open water accounted for the five Common Loons and a Belted Kingfisher.
Lingering species included a Hermit Thrush, eight Northern Mockingbirds and a Pine Warbler. I’m sure the counters were hoping for a better showing of late-departing birds.
Like Augusta, Lewiston/Auburn hosted few irruptive birds. Three Pine Siskins were the only winter invaders found.
We’ll head to the coast now, starting with the York County CBC. This count was held on December 14. A total of 81 species were counted.
Waterfowl diversity is always high on this count; 15 species were tallied this year. The highlights included 1,083 Common Eiders and 66 Harlequin Ducks. Two loon species were present: 86 Common Loons and 13 Red-throated Loons.
We expect Great Cormorants in the winter and Double-crested Cormorants during the summer in Maine. This year, one Double-crested was found among the 39 Greats.
This count produced an excellent diversity of lingering birds. These hardy birds included nine Great Blue Herons, a Northern Harrier, four Belted Kingfishers, two Northern Flickers, two Carolina Wrens, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 59 Eastern Bluebirds, one Hermit Thrush, six Northern Mockingbirds, a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Baltimore Oriole.
Two rarities were found: a Dickcissel and a Clay-colored Sparrow. A dozen Pine Siskins were the only irruptive birds.
On downeast to the Schoodic Peninsula. The Schoodic Count was held on January 1. A total of 58 species were found, including an eye-popping rarity.
Thirteen species of waterfowl were present. A single Red-throated Loon was found along with 65 Common Loons. Fifty Horned Grebes and 95 Red-necked Grebes were nice counts. A single Razorbill was found ; 21 Purple Sandpipers were seen foraging on the rocky shore.
Lingering birds included a Northern Harrier, a Belted Kingfisher, two Northern Flicker, five Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Fox Sparrow and a White-crowned Sparrow.
One Northern Shrike was the only winter invader on the count.
The highlight of the count was a Black-throated Sparrow found by Ed and Debby Hawkes and Chuck Whitney. This species is normally found in the deserts of the southwestern states and Mexico. The sighting is the first confirmed record for Maine (a 1983 record provides only sketchy details) and only the fourth confirmed record for New England. Fantastic!