13 January 2015

Christmas Bird Count Season Comes to a Close

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).
I had the opportunity to assist with four Christmas Bird Counts in Indiana and Michigan this season, including two that I have helped with for many years and two that I joined for the first time in 2014.  The first count that I joined was a new one for me, the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count, on December 15, 2014.

An inquisitive Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) observed on the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.
For this count I joined Dennis Richardson, Frances Sipocz-Richardson, Jo Brugos, John Brugos, and Kip Miller.  Upon arriving at the Richardsons' home, I heard Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) and Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis); a nice way to start off the day!

One of several Common Loons (Gavia immer) that we saw in northeast LaPorte County on Christmas Bird Count day.
Our group visited a variety of habitats during the day, ranging from lakes to wetlands to pine plantations to forests.  Although bird numbers seemed low, we tallied a very respectable 48 species, birding from 8:00 AM central time until dusk. 

An iconic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) soars over a northeast LaPorte County wetland.
Some of our highlights during the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count included American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Canvasback (Aythya valisineria), Redhead (Aythya americana), Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), Common Loon (Gavia immer), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), and Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

A White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi, in the back on the right) stole the show at the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.
A couple of days later, on December 17, 2014, I was at it again, this time across the state line into Michigan to help with the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.  I was teamed with the amazing Kip Miller, and we were joined for most of the morning by Helen Obenchain.  Before Helen arrived, Kip and I got an early start with owling and had spectacular looks at a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).  We then searched to no avail for a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) that Kip had seen at the New Buffalo harbor the previous day, but we were at least treated to a Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) as a consolation prize.  Again, I can certainly think of worse ways to start out a day of birding!

Early morning owling during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count produced a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).
Kip and I (and Helen for part of the morning) visited various habitats, including lakefront, deciduous forest, fields, planted prairie, and wetlands.  My eyes were thoroughly tired when I headed home after seeing 42 species during almost 11 straight hours of birding. 

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.
We had plenty of highlights during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count, including Redhead (Aythya americana), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia), Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), and Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla).

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. 
Since Kip coordinates the New Buffalo count, he sometimes observes areas outside of the section that he is specifically covering.  Species in the table below that are marked with an X were seen outside of our section.  While searching for the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) pictured above, we ran into a couple of other birders who had seen Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) in their count area, so Kip and I made a late afternoon trip to see these birds, which are as yet uncommon in southwest Michigan.

Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) had never before been observed during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.
I was at it again just a few days later, participating in the South Bend Christmas Bird Count on December 20, 2014.  I coordinate the southwest quarter of the count circle, and was lucky enough to have two other teams helping out with our area.  Lindsay and I covered the southern portion of the area, owling and birding from 5:00 AM until about 4:00 PM.  We started the day with four gray phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) and 2 Barred Owls (Strix varia) on our list before most of the population of South Bend had even rolled out of bed.

One of four gray phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) that we saw during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.
I enjoy the area that we cover during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count because of our variety of habitat, ranging from deciduous forest to pine plantation to old field to agricultural fields to suburban feeders to wetlands, but what we really lack is open water areas.  Consequently, we don't get many ducks or gulls, but we were able to tally 38 species and good numbers of individuals on one of the birdiest days I can remember for a South Bend count.  Other birders on the count, however, felt that it was a pretty slow day.

A Barred Owl (Strix varia) looks on just before sunrise on the day of the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.
Amongst our highlights during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count were the following: Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Barred Owl (Strix varia), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), and Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus).

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!  

1 comment:

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