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Christmas birders reported 3,000 more than average

THIRTY PILEATED WOODPECKERS like this one were seen during the 2022 Christmas Bird Count in Addison County.
Photo by Kris Andrews

ADDISON COUNTY — This year 39 field birders and 21 observers at feeders identified 19,992 birds of 67 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 18. This is almost 3,000 more birds than our average, but the increases are more than accounted for by the 1,845 Canada Geese (902 more than average), 1,982 American Crows (1,063 more than average), and 1,453 Horned Larks (1,102 more than average). Our total of 67 species is as close as you can get to our average of 66.8 species over the last 34 years of our count.

We 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 Mountain on the north to Richville Dam on the south. The Middlebury count is one of over 2,400 held throughout North and Central America. 

This year the National Audubon Society loosened its COVID safety guidelines to once again allow in-person compilation gatherings. That said, the personal comfort level of participating birders varied tremendously, with some birders preferring not to attend inside gatherings and others preferring not to share a car. Organizers worked hard to respect participants’ wide variety of safety concerns, and a successful count was held.

Due to heavy wet snow the preceding day some birders could not make it to Middlebury, so field teams had to be quickly reorganized at the last minute. Owlers started the day in the predawn blackness, and field birders headed out at first light  for a full day of birding.

Final results of our count will be entered online and made available for casual browsing or scientific study at the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) website. Those results will soon be available at https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count. 

Despite the warm fall weather, most of the southern end of Lake Champlain within our count circle was frozen with only a few open water pockets remaining. Otter Creek and our other major rivers were still open, but they don’t support the same diversity of waterbirds as Lake Champlain does. As a result, we located only 11 of the 44 water-related species found during our count over its history. This is very close to our average of 11.8 water-related species.

Canada Geese (1,845), Mallards (196), American Black Duck (28), Common Mergansers (29) and Bald Eagles (3) were found both inland and on Lake Champlain, but the Common Goldeneye (449) and Ring-billed Gulls (4) were found only on or near the open water pockets of Lake Champlain. Our one late-season Great Blue Heron was found along Otter Creek by Holly Fulton, with the help of count newcomers, Jennifer and Scott Kluever. David Guertin, Cindy Sprague, and first-timer Natalia Perchemlides spotted the two Hooded Mergansers and single Belted Kingfisher on Otter Creek in Middlebury. Kris and Birch Andrews, Erin Talmage, and Andrea Scott were surprised to find the count’s single Great Black-backed Gull sitting in a field in Bridport. 

In addition to the species mentioned above, species found by only one team were the single Ruffed Grouse found on Snake Mountain by grouse specialists Barbara Brosnan and John Chamberlain; the single White-crowned Sparrow found by team of Chris and Preston Turner, Lyn DuMoulin, and first-timer Francesca Nocito; the four Ring-necked Pheasants, single Brown Thrasher, and single Winter Wren found by Kathy and Gary Starr; the Long-eared Owl found by owler Tyler Pockette; an American Pipit found by Ian Worley; the 37 Bohemian Waxwings found by Ron Payne, Carolyn Jackson, and Ellyn Montgomery; and the single Red-winged Blackbird also found by the team of Holly Fulton and Jennifer and Scott Kluever.

Birds found in unusually high numbers were the tiny Saw Whet Owls (7), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (80), Pileated Woodpeckers (30), Horned Larks (1,453), Tufted Titmice (188), and Eastern Blue-birds (224). As mentioned in previous reports, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been increasing in numbers in the Lake Chaplain Basin. Over the first 10 years of our count we averaged 0.4 birds per count. Over the last 10 years we averaged 58 per year, and their numbers continue to increase. 

Similarly, we averaged 23 Tufted Titmice over the first 10 years of our count. That number has more than doubled to an average of 58 Tufted Titmice per count over the last 10 years of our count. Eastern Bluebirds have shown an even larger increase in numbers from an average of 23 per year over the first 10 years of our count to 125 per count over the past 10 years. The many bluebird houses erected by landowners almost certainly account for some of this increase. The recent milder winters as a result of climate change also help. 

Although the 628 Dark-eyed Juncos found this year is not a record number, their species is also showing an increase on our count. Over the first ten years of our count we averaged 95 juncos per year, over the last ten years we have averaged 485 juncos per year.

Birds found in unusually low numbers were the Rough-legged Hawks (7) and Cedar Waxwings (2). My guess is that the Rough-legged Hawks did not need to come this far south to find open ground where they could hunt for mice and voles. The low numbers of Cedar Waxwings might have to do with the limited amount of small fruit available this year. 

Species showing significant long-term declines continue to be the Ruffed Grouse and the Red-headed Woodpecker. Over the first 10 years of the count we averaged 15 Ruffed Grouse per year, now we average one per year. Red-headed Woodpecker has entirely disappeared from out count with none reported in the last 10 years. It never was common, but over the first 10 years of the count, we found one roughly every other year.

Readers probably have read about declines in some of our other bird species, but most of those species are birds that breed here and then travel south for the winter. The birds that we are counting either spend the entire year here or breed further north and visit us in the winter to find adequate food. Our milder winters have allowed some species that used to migrate to find food here all year long.

A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort between field teams and feeder watchers. In reviewing our count history, two more pairs of feeder watchers need to be thanked. Scott and Sue Douglas of Shoreham have contributed their feeder data 18 times, and Dick and Sue Philip, also from Shoreham, have contributed their feeder data 19 times. We really appreciate regular contributors like these folks, and we are 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. 

We would also love to have more young birders join our field teams. Anyone under 40 looks young to most of us. If you are interested in reporting your feeder birds or participating on a field team next year, contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 802-352-4734. Thanks again to all the volunteers and landowners.

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