Christmas bird count results 2018

ADDISON COUNTY — This year 42 field birders and 19 observers at feeders located and identified 15,659 birds of 72 species during the Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 16, — exactly the same number of species found in both of the last two years, though the individual species were different.
Birders survey a 15-mile-diameter count circle centered on the Lemon Fair in eastern Bridport and covering from the A & W Root Beer stand on the east to New York State on the west and from Snake Mt. on the north to Richville Dam on the south. The Middlebury count is one of over 1,800 held throughout North and Central America.
Most territories were covered by a group of two to four field birders and a few feeder watchers. Experts familiar with birding and the assigned territory accompanied each team. Along with field counts, a number of feeder-watcher counts came in the days following the field count. Final results are available at the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count website at birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
Despite frozen water, field teams found 12 of the 44 water-related species located over the previous 29 years of the count. The most unusual of these were the 28 Double-crested Cormorants. These birds moved north into the Lake Champlain Basin on their own during the 80s and have become numerous in the summer but don’t usually linger into the winter.
Participants also located six of the northern song birds that occasionally visit the Lake Champlain Basin in the winter. Two of these species were found in large flocks (373 Common Redpolls, 112 Bohemian Waxwings) but most were hard to find at all (6 Pine Grosbeaks, 1 Hoary Redpoll, 1 Pine Siskin, and 1 Evening Grosbeak). Counters expected to see more Evening Grosbeaks, since for the first time in decades flocks of these beautiful birds had been returning to eastern U.S. bird feeders, but they were not at all easy to find on count day.
This was the first year in the history of the count that none of the teams located any Horned Larks, in part due to lack of snow cover. When there is snow Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and some sparrows are easier to spot as they are forced to feed along the plowed edges of our roads.
Owling teams located a variety of visiting northern owls, including four Saw-whet owls, a single Long-eared owl, and three Short-eared owls. They also located 13 Great Horned Owls, 6 Screech Owls, and some of the 24 Barred Owls, common year-round residents. Many of the Barred Owls were located during the day by the field teams. The  Barred Owls count fell just short of the record number of 25 back in 2012. No Snowy Owls were located.
Two species were found for the first time in the history of our count. The count’s first Ruby-crowned Kinglet was spotted at McKuen Slang in Addison. Golden-crowned Kinglets are often found in winter here, but Ruby-crowned Kinglets are usually long gone. Another first was a Yellow-throated Warbler located and photographed in Frog Hollow two days after our count day. Not to be confused with our Common Yellowthroat, the Yellow-throated Warbler is very rare in Vermont even during the summer. It should be in Florida at this time of year.
Another count-week rarity was a young Harris’s Sparrow that had been visiting a feeder in Bridport. This mid-western species would be more commonly found in Oklahoma at this time of year. It is travelling and feeding with a small group of White-throated Sparrows. This is only the second time a Harris’s Sparrow has been found during out count.
Two species set new record-high numbers. The 76 Red-bellied Woodpeckers broke the previous record of 52. This species was not even found in the basin prior to the 80’s and it has now been found in greater numbers than Hairy Woodpeckers for the last three counts. The number of tiny Saw-whet owls was a less dramatic record at a total of four. The two Common Grackles tied our previous record of two found back in 1993. A single Fish Crow was identified by its nasal call, only the second time a Fish Crow has been identified during the count. As they move north from coastal areas  birders expect more sightings to occur.
It has been almost twenty years since a Hoary Redpoll was found. during the count. It is a northern visitor that is sometimes found with flocks of Common Redpolls. It is expected to be lumped together with Common Redpolls in the future. If so, it will lose its species status.
The total number of birds found this year is down about 300 from last year’s total and only slightly below the 30-year average of 16,543. For perspective, compare the single Snow Bunting found this year to the 1,980 found in 2008 or the 360 American Tree Sparrows reported this year to their record-high number of 1,274 in 2003.
The total of 72 species is five above the average of 67 for the count and well above what would be expected for a count with very limited open water.
A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort between field teams and feeder watchers. While there were many field birders, bird count organizers are looking for additional people who live within the count circle, can identify the birds they are seeing, and who are interested in reporting what they see at their feeders. If interested in reporting your feeder birds or participating on a field team next year, contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 352-4734.

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