Tis this season to be Merry and count birds. The first Christmas Bird Counts were started in 1900, when twenty five were conducted. Last year, 2,160 counts were done on a national level. Here in New England the counts break down as follows….Massachusetts 33, Maine 29, Vermont 18, Rhode Island 4, New Hampshire 17, and 16 in Connecticut.
Locally, I participate on the Northampton and Quabbin counts, and added the Sturbridge count to my list of firsts. As mentioned, I did the Sturbridge count for the first time this year with my wife Valerie. Now, Valerie is a veteran of the Sturbridge count and has never missed one. This particular count is held on a week day, often making it difficult for me to break away from work. Our section of the count is called Elf Hill. This area is in the Brookfield’s. Our highlight of the day happened to be the second bird that we observed…..American Woodcock!! This was the first Woodcock I’ve ever come across on a Christmas Count. However, this was not a first for the Sturbridge count, there was a prior record! The day was cold with a noticeable breeze…making it real cold. It wasn’t a record count, but my recollection was around 73 species, making it a respectable count.
The Northampton count was held under ideal conditions on Sunday the 19th. I was joined again this year by James Smith of Gill. James and I started at 3AM in Amherst. I have a relatively small owling area, but it can be quite good. The Owling conditions were simply unbelievable…no wind, clear, but a little chilly. In two and a half hours of Owling, we had five species! Great Horned – 2, Eastern Screech Owl -3, Northern Saw-whet Owl -1, Barred Owl-1 and the gem of the morning was a calling Long-eared Owl. Our Barred Owl was brought in by a calling Screech Owl near Umass. That little owl made a vocalization just before the Barred Owl appeared, a sound that James or I had never heard before. Of course, if something were chasing and trying to eat us, I’m sure James and I would make a whole bunch of noises that that many of our friends have never heard us make before. We felt the little owl had a pretty good head start and that it probably eluded his uninvited guest.
The daylight portion of our count also proved to be quite productive. My area is along the river in Hadley, and I’ve covered this area since the early 80’s. We ended the day with 49 species, highlights…..Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, American Pipit-2, and 4 White-cr. Sparrows. Overall, the count did very well….an unofficial 87 species, just four shy of the record.
Next up….The Quabbin Count.
Merlin- Above) This bird found by James Smith. This is the darkest appearing Merlin I've seen here in the Northeast.
White-crowned Sparrow (Imm) Two or four birds we had this day. Certainly the most I've ever had on the Northampton count.
White-crowned Sparrow- Imm. Hadley
Savannah Sparrow- This individual was on the pale side of the Savannah Sparrows we encountered.
American Woodcock- Sturbridge C.B.C. 12-14-10