On January 1st, 2011 the Quabbin Christmas bird count was held under the best possible conditions one could hope for, for a January day in New England. I started out by meeting James smith in the center of Hardwick, at 3:30am. (My little section of the count) During the next two and a half hours we tallied (9) Great Horned Owls, (4) Northern Saw-whet Owls and a Porcupine. One of the Saw-whet Owls put on a great show, strong, consistent vocalizations and even made a couple of appearances.
By 6:45am we made our way to the local Cumbies (The only store open) and met Mike Locher and David Peake-Jones. Both gentlemen were out owling since midnight! There numbers might not have been as strong has ours, but the variety was notably better. Along with Great Horned and Saw-whet Owls, they nabbed a Barred and Eastern Screech-Owl. (Well done)
While in the parking lot of the Cumbies, a sizable flock of Common Redpolls made there way overhead….perhaps a good sign. After getting some supplies we headed back to the Hardwick area. As I mentioned earlier, the day itself was one of the highlights….by early afternoon the mercury would top off at 50 Degrees! The warm temperatures would bring out the best in the local woodpeckers; they must have thought spring had sprung. Woodpeckers were drumming, calling all over the place, especially the Pleated Woodpecker. In our area alone we had (9) and the area to our north would record (24). By the end of the day a new High count for Pleated Woodpecker would not only surpass the pervious high, but just crushed it. The new mark is now (61) the old record was (31) and that was several years ago. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern flickers would also establish new highs.
Around 10am we were joined by my wife Valerie and her mom, Priscilla Moor. We immediately headed for Gate 43 of the Quabbin, an area known as the Horse shoe Dam. This area provides us with are only real opportunity for waterfowl, Eagles and maybe a Raven or two. Once we arrived at the fishing area my fears were confirmed, very little open water. December had been just a little too cold for this area of the Quabbin, and froze up just about everything except right around the dam. However, much to my surprise….a Belted Kingfisher came screaming in to lay his claim to this little oasis. He did have a little competition….Valerie had found two River Otters just playing and feeding on the other side of the causeway. I was able to get some decent photos of the two before they just disappeared under the ice. While we were taking in the Otters, James had a Snow bunting fly over, that bird ended up being the only one for the count. Other notables were a couple of Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and a lone Coyote out on the ice.
Temperature wise, the day just got warmer and warmer, and we ended up birding in sweatshirts for the rest of the afternoon. Our best bird of the day came near the end…James spied a Merlin on top of a tree, a good ways out. This would only be the second one ever recorded on the count. After dropping James off at his car, Valerie, Priscilla and I got four large pizzas to go from Lazy Mary’s Pizzeria just off the Hardwick Common and headed back to the tally at the Quabbin Headquarters in Belchertown. Below are the numbers from the day, total species were about average and we ended with 10 species of mammals. All in all, a Nice Day!
Purple Finch-male. One of three found on the count.
Red-bellied Woodpecker- Their numbers continue to grow. A new high count of 35.
Carolina Wrens- Also a new high count...11
Merlin- only the second one recorded on the count. However, in recent years- Merlins have become a little more common in winter than they once were.
Canada Goose -1
American Black Duck -56
Bald Eagle- 19 (13Ad) (6 Imm)
Cooper’s Hawk -6
Rough-legged Hawk-1. (Dark Morph)
Great Horned Owl -42HC
Northern Saw-whet Owl-13
Belted Kingfisher-6 ties HC
Red-bellied Woodpecker 35HC
American Tree Sparrow-150
Total 63 species
Snow Goose -1 cw
Coyote- 2 (day time sightings) (3 packs heard during owling)
Gray Squirrel -40 (Black Squirrel-2)