Birders tally up our feathered friends
MIDDLEBURY — This year 41 field birders and 34 observers at feeders located and identified 17,289 birds of 68 species during the Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 20.
Counters survey a 15-mile-diameter count circle centered on the Lemon Fair in eastern Bridport and covering from the Route 7 A & W Root Beer stand on the east to New York state on the west and from Snake Mountain on the north to Richville Dam on the south. The Middlebury count is one of over 1,800 held throughout North and Central America.
Due to the pandemic, all in-person compilation gatherings needed to be cancelled and social distancing and/or masking were required at all times in the field. Many volunteers made solo routes on foot or divided up territories so that birders in cars could bird alone or with a family member. Birders covered almost all of the Trail Around Middlebury and bushwhacked on their own private land or public land within the count circle. With so many people at home due to the pandemic, record numbers of volunteers watched their own bird feeders and reported the birds they had seen.
With almost twice the number of residents watching and reporting birds at feeders, one might assume that the record numbers of Tufted Titmice (188), and Carolina Wrens (25) reported were the result of the number of observers, but keep in mind that both of these species are relatively new arrivals here in Vermont. Tufted Titmice were first seen in numbers over 100 (111) in 2004 and Carolina Wrens were not found in the double-digit numbers until 2014 (12). Another recent arrival and 2020-record-setter is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (91). They were first seen on the count in 1989. They were first reported in double digit numbers in 2005 (12), and now for the last two years they have been reported more often than Hairy Woodpeckers (60). That said, they are also a noisy bird and easier to locate than Hairy Woodpeckers.
Although a common summer breeder in Vermont, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers a few have recently become year-round residents. This species was first found during the count in 2007 but has now been reported during six of the last ten counts. This year, two-different teams reported wintering sapsuckers. Jim Andrews and Kate Kelly spotted a Brown Thrasher in Bridport. This species is also a summer breeder here but was first reported during the count in 2017. Perhaps this species will also be seen more regularly in the winter as the climate warms.
Chris and Preston Turner located an immature Golden Eagle along Otter Creek in Weybridge. This is only the second time in count history that this species has been found n the count circle in the circle. In contrast, the recently recovered Bald Eagle has been reported every year but one in the last twenty years, and even this year without open water, we found nine. Both Kris Andrews and Craig Zondag reported Rusty Blackbirds (2). This species is declining in Vermont, but still can be seen with some regularity when more northern birds migrate through Vermont in the fall. This is only the third time during the count that this species has been found within the circle. Brendan Collins spent much of the day scouring the east side of Snake Mountain for birds. He contributed the only report of a Red Crossbill (1). This conifer-seed-eating bird has only been located twice before during the count.
The Red Crossbill was not the only northern passerine species to migrate into the Lake Champlain Basin this winter. Common Redpolls (639), Pine Grosbeaks (46), Bohemian Waxwings (15), Snow Buntings (57), Horned Larks (335), Pine Siskins (15), Tree Sparrows (424), and one Lapland Longspur (1) were reported as well.
Common Ravens (67) and Eastern Bluebirds (178) were reported in record numbers. Both of these species are recovering from declines suffered many decades ago. The 151 Red-tailed Hawks reported easily broke the previous record of 113 red-tails seen back in 2013. The six Northern Saw-whet owls broke last year’s record of four and ten Short-eared Owls easily surpassed the previous high of three. Chris and Laura Slesar flushed seven Short-eared Owls from a single tree near Nortontown Road in Addison. Both of these owls are pretty unique. The Northern Saw Whet Owl is so tiny that most observers would not think it could be an owl. In length, they are a bit shorter than a Northern Cardinal, but they have much longer wings. Short-eared Owls are a respectable owl size but fly like a bat in a cheap vampire movie.
On the other hand, not a single Ruffed Grouse was found. These birds were found every year for the first 23 years of the count with 26 reported in 1994 but they have only been found five of the last eight years. This appears to be the result of a loss of the dense, shrubby, habitat that this species prefers.
The total of 68 species is barely higher than the average of 66.7 and the total number of birds seen (17,289) is about average (16,951) but both are impressive given the lack of open water in the count circle.
A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort between field teams and feeder watchers. The Count is always 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 you are interested in reporting your feeder birds or participating on a field team next year, contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 352-4734.
Final count results can be seen online at audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.
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