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Monday, December 20, 2010

Stokes CBC 2010

One of the highlights of our Christmas Bird Count was a Pileated Woodpecker flying over our heads. Part of the excitement is, you never know what you'll see when you spend a whole day looking for birds.

Having coffee just before dawn and waiting for the first birds to arrive at our feeders. It was 18 degrees outside.

American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea

As the sun came up, one of the first to arrive was this American Tree Sparrow, sitting low on it's feet; better to keep warm. Check out the yellow lower mandible! We had 8 at our feeders. This is a beautiful far northern breeding species that migrates down into the U.S. in winter. It's the largest of our sparrows in the Spizella genus.

A Dark-eyed Junco joined it, feasting on the white millet seed we put on our deck. There are a lot of subspecies of juncos and they are divided into 5 groups*, thus juncos can look quite different depending on where in the country you're located. Our juncos here in NH are in the Slate-colored Group ("Slate-colored Junco," Hyemalis Group) which includes 3 subspecies.

Pine Siskins were one of the birds we hoped we would see. This is another species that breeds in more northern and western areas and "irrupts" or migrates farther south in years of less food availability in it's usual area. These found no lack of food availability at the Stokes well-stocked feeders. Hulled Sunflower was on the menu.

Finches love to feed in flocks and you can get more at your feeders if you provide more seating room. Here are Pine Siskins (upper right) an American Goldfinch (center) and an American Tree Sparrow (left).

Another cool "irruptive" species we had was a Common Redpoll. Our neighbor had 7 in her yard that flew right over our heads before we could get a good look at them. We cinched the ID by the call notes they gave.

We luckily saw Red-breasted Nuthatches, a species who has cornered the cute market. Our team saw 9, the most in our Christmas Count Area.

Bundled up to the max in the early morning. We've been doing the Christmas Bird Count together for 30 years.

Since every bird counts, one of the things I like best is to embrace the beauty of the common birds, not just seek the rare. These Blue Jays were gorgeous against the snow, eating mixed seed from the ground in front of the brush pile we built by our feeders — just a magnet for the birds.

People ask us how do you know you're not counting the same birds.
Here's a tip on how know Hairy Woodpeckers as individuals.

Notice the pattern of the patch on back of their heads, which varies, and draw or photograph it. This male has a red patch divided by a thin black line. Another male we have has no black line dividing the red. This method of telling birds apart also works for females and Downy Woodpeckers as well. We know we have 2 different pairs of Hairy Woodpeckers on our property and we can identify them as individuals.

The day warmed up into the 20's and was sunny with no wind, it was beautiful. This is a frozen river. You'd think there would be birds in this mixed habitat but nada. We were reduced to talking about the species we had seen in this area in former years! This year we found a lack of birds, in general, compared to other years.

Meade and Sandy are our CBC birding buddies and have been on our team for the last several years.

Here's the countdown party, hosted at our house. All the teams from our Christmas Bird Count (which is the Peterborough count, in SW New Hampshire) gathered to socialize and turn in their numbers and we got to hear how everyone did. Lots of wine, beer, special greek pizza (yes they make awesome pizza especially the feta and spinach one), snackies, salads, brownies, and great chocolate chip cookies. You gotta feed well the tired, cold, hungry, hard-working birders; they all deserved it!!

Most unusual bird of our count (seen by another team) was an Eastern Meadowlark. That was the first time it has ever been recorded on this count.
There were lower numbers of many birds such as robins, sparrows, grosbeaks. Speculation in this area was that the severe drought we had in spring and summer depleted the usual levels of seeds and some fruits and thus the birds were not as plentiful here as in past years.

What were the highlights of your Christmas Bird Count?

* Subspecies information from "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America", our newly published, national field guide which contains all the subspecies (no other guide does).


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to take a moment to wish Lillian and Don a very Merry Christmas. You folks have certainly enhanced the quality of my life with this blog, your birding supplies, and all the literature over the years, and especially the latest and greatest field guide ever! Thank you, Dan in Maine

Calvin in Ontario, Canada said...

I had a great christmas bird count, highlights included a flicker, an eastern meadowlark, 2 kestrels and a rough-legged hawk!

I very much so enjoy your blog, very good!