Have you noticed a lot of people out in the cold peering through binoculars lately? Were you driving behind a car that inexplicably kept slowing down and that had its windows down despite the howling winds, freezing rain, or barely double-digit temperatures? If so, you likely experienced someone participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. The count took place at hundreds of locations throughout the western hemisphere from December 14 to January 5, just as it has for the past 115 years.
|Participants in the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count look for a particularly vocal Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).|
|An inquisitive Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) observed on the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.|
|One of several Common Loons (Gavia immer) that we saw in northeast LaPorte County on Christmas Bird Count day.|
|An iconic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) soars over a northeast LaPorte County wetland.|
|A White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi, in the back on the right) stole the show at the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.|
|Early morning owling during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count produced a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).|
|Birds were difficult to see on the choppy Lake Michigan waters during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count, but this pair of Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus) was relatively close to shore.|
|Winter Wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis) can sometimes be difficult to come by, but this one seen during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count was quite cooperative.|
|Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) had never before been observed during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.|
|One of four gray phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) that we saw during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.|
|A Barred Owl (Strix varia) looks on just before sunrise on the day of the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.|
|A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) observed during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count looks for its next meal.|
The final count in which I participated was the Elkhart County Christmas Bird Count on January 3, 2015. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative that day, with rain, freezing rain, and snow all day long. I began owling before 6:00 AM and quickly picked up two red phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) at one location and a gray phase at another. I was joined by Ted Miller for the remainder of the day, and we birded until we lost daylight, covering habitats including suburban feeders, river, ponds, wetlands, deciduous forest, old field, and agricultural fields. The constant precipitation prohibited any photographs, and birds were sparse. We were able to tally 32 species for the day, but even the numbers of individuals were down, presumably due to the weather and visibility conditions. I often add species by ear while driving, but all that we could hear was the sloshing of slush beneath the tires and the monotonous beat of my windshield wipers. Highlights for the day included Gadwall (Anas strepera), Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Barred Owl (Strix varia), and Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris).
|My 2014-2015 Christmas Bird Count totals. An "X" designates a species observed in the count circle on count day but in a different sector than where I was technically counting.|
Overall for the 2014-2015 Christmas Bird Count, I tallied 70 species with the help of several wonderful birders. I'm already looking forward to assisting with these counts, and maybe a couple of others, next December and January!