A Greater White-fronted Goose found during the Ferrisburgh CBC

A stiff north wind blew throughout the 52nd Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count held December 17, 2011. The wintry conditions provided a stark contrast to the up-to-then very mild winter. As a result we had a mixture of migrating waterfowl and lingering landbirds that usually would have migrated. On the other hand, the persistent wind made it difficult to coax birds from the brush. Forty-five field observers and five feeder watchers spent the day tallying birds and identified 81 species. An additional two species (Black Scoter and Gadwall) were found during the count week period. Large flocks of migrating geese complicated determination of actual numbers of birds as surely some flocks were counted by multiple observers. In the end I arbitrarily assumed 1/3 of both Canada and Snow Geese had been double counted. With this assumption, observers tallied 51,166 birds, the most birds recorded in the history of the count. Our ten-year average is 79 species and 20,376 birds.

We recorded 23 species of waterfowl (including great-blue heron) and four species of gull. Highlights included three Cackling Geese on two territories, two Greater White-fronted Geese, a record number of Common Loons (47, previous high 39 in 2001), Surf Scoter, American Wigeon (first since 2003), Green-winged Teal and Bonaparte’s Gulls. There were large but not record setting numbers of Scaup: 36 Greater and 26 Lesser. With regards to geese, even with the 1/3 reduction in number we shattered the previous record of geese observed with 10,453 Canada Geese (previous high 3,027 in 2005) and 21,966 snows (previous high 14,030 in 2001). The ring-billed gull count (2,100) exceeded all previous counts (previous high 985 in 1982). On the other hand, 68 common mergansers was the lowest total since 1975.

Most abundant among the lingering migrants were a record number of American Robins (3,849, previous high 1,575, in 1994). Mixed in with the robins were seven Yellow-rumped Warblers (first record since 2005), a Yellow-bellied Sapscucker (now recorded three times in the last five years), and a Hermit Thrush (fourth count record). There was also a record number of Eastern Bluebirds (82, previous high 77 in 2001).

Field birds were difficult to find. There were no Common Redpolls or Lapland Longspurs. Only two teams encountered Horned Larks recording 13 individuals, the lowest total since 1978 when only two were recorded. Snow Buntings were a little easier to find. Three teams found a total of 84.

We set record high counts for 12 species, some of which have already been mentioned. All four goose species were observed in record numbers. Our large corvids were well represented with record numbers of Common Raven (67, previous high last year with 43) and American Crows (1,128, previous high 865 in 1998). The 28 Northern Harriers nipped the previous high of 27 from 2006. Incidentally, 2006 was the last time we even had double digit numbers for this raptor. European Starlings were also abundant with 5,137 topping the previous record total of 4,592 from 2002.

Some of our more common birds had unusually low counts. Unlike the larger corvids, Blue Jay numbers fell with 146 being the lowest since 1979. The 90 Northern Cardinals was the lowest total since 2000. The 211 Mourning Doves was the lowest since 1978. The 218 American Tree Sparrows was the lowest since 1999.

Seventeen species were found on all 11 of our largest territories: Canada Geese, Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, and American Goldfinch.

Twenty-two species were recorded from only one territory. Of these, seven were water-birds. Six of the seven were reported from the Charlotte territory: Red-throated Loon, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, American Wigeon, and Long-tailed Duck. The seventh species was a Wood Duck found on the New Haven territory. The 15 land birds came from eight territories. Button Bay recorded Hermit Thrush, Northern Shrike, Merlin, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Charlotte found Yellow-rumped Warblers, Purple Finches, and a Peregrine Falcon. New York found Ring-necked Pheasant and six (!) Short-eared Owls. North Ferrisburgh identified American Kestrel and Yellow-bellied sapsucker. Kellogg Bay had the only Red-winged Blackbird while Addison found the only Brown-headed Cowbirds. An Evening Grosbeak showed up in New Haven, and the Kingsland Bay owling team got the only Great-horned Owl.

Full Species Total List (pdf)

– Mike Winslow