A Common Redpoll in Red Osier Dogwood

A Common Redpoll in Red Osier Dogwood

This year 40 field birders and 8 observers at feeders located and identified 22,139 birds of 77 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count.  It was held this year on Sunday, December 16.  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 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.  Field birders met at six AM at Rosie’s Restaurant for breakfast and an organizational meeting before heading out to their assigned territories.  Most territories were covered by a group of two to four field birders and a few feeder watchers.  Within each team of field birders were one or two experts who were familiar with birding and the assigned territory.  Along with some of them were helpers who may not have been as familiar with birds or the territory.  At the end the day, the field teams met at the home of Jim and Kris Andrews for a preliminary tally of the species seen.  Reports from the feeder-watchers came in over the next few days and were added to the total count.  Final results of each count are then compiled and entered online and made available for casual browsing or scientific study at the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) website (http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count).

This year, like last year, the warm fall weather kept southern Lake Champlain and Otter Creek open with only small and shallow water bodies frozen; consequently, we found a total of 19 water-related species.  One of these, a Barrow’s goldeneye found by the team of Ethan Fenn, John Meakin, and Ian Worley in Bridport, has occasionally been found on Lake Champlain north of the Crown Point Bridge but it was a first for our count.  Another unusual species found only for the second time on our count was the American pipit found on a manure pile near Snake Mountain by the team of Mike Winslow, Tyler Pockette, and Mike Iacchetta.  The open lake generated some record numbers of water-related birds such as Lesser scaup (1,706), Ring-billed gull (126), Bufflehead (15), and Common loon (4).  Although not records, the 2057 Canada geese and 375 Mallards found are the second highest totals for those species on our count.  As a result of recent climate warming, we may see southern Lake Champlain remaining open more often during future counts.

This year we located a total of 9 of the 16 northern terrestrial visitors that occasionally show up on our count.  This is well above our 24-year average of 5.9 species.  In the northern-predator group we found one each of the Short-eared owl, Saw whet owl, and Northern shrike.  Although, Barred owls are a year-round resident here in the valley and are generally considered non-migratory, some years their numbers increase so dramatically that one has to wonder if their populations are augmented by an influx of northern visitors as well.  This year we found a record number of 25 Barred owls.  This is almost three times last year’s total of nine with an only slightly increased amount of owling effort.  An alternative explanation for these record numbers is that their population has increased as a result of recent increases in rodent numbers.

Many of the northern finches visited this fall.  Pine siskins came through this area in large numbers in the early fall but appeared to have left our count circle by the time of our count.  Only a single Pine siskin was located.  Common Redpolls usually visit us every other year.   After readjusting their cycle and skipping 2009, they have now returned to that pattern.  We found 768 of this northern visitor in our count this year, after finding none last year.  Pine grosbeaks visit far more irregularly.  This year we located 22 of this species.  Their last visit to our count circle was back in 2007.  Watch the crab apples in and around Middlebury for this species this winter.  Crab apples are a favorite winter food for Pine grosbeaks.  We located only small numbers of Snow buntings (21) and Lapland longspurs (5) this year, but Bohemian waxwings visited in record numbers (462).

Although we had a relatively warm fall, there were very few juniper berries in our count circle.  It appears this is the reason that numbers of our resident fruit-eating birds were minimal this year. We located only 185 American robins.  This is roughly 10% of last year’s 1,783 robins.  Those robins that spend the winter here need to switch their food from worms and insects to fruit.  Many of the relatively few robins we found were feeding on sumac berries rather than juniper berries.  Last year’s juniper berries kept seven Yellow-rumped warblers and a Hermit thrush in the count circle but neither species were found this year.

Cedar waxwings (also a fruit eater) continued a six-year decline on our count.  It seems unlikely that this is related simply to the winter fruit crops.  Their numbers from 2007 to now have been: 1621, 1056, 462, 198, 104, and 49.  The recent Vermont breeding bird atlas does not show breeding declines in Vermont; however, the atlases in some of the Canadian provinces north of us do show declines and these areas may be the source of our wintering birds.

A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort.  Feeder reports often add 3 or 4 species not found by the field teams.  Our numbers of feeder watchers are down and we need to find some additional folks who live within the count circle and are interested in reporting what they see at their feeders.   If you know of anyone who might be interested, please encourage them to contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 352-4734.

All combined, our birders in the field and those at feeders managed to tally a total of 77 species (same as last year) as a result of the warm fall and the resulting open water.  This ties with our second-highest total ever and raises our 22-year-average to 66 species.  Additional field participants with birding skills are welcome but should keep in mind that this is a full day of outdoor winter effort.  Thanks again to all the volunteers and landowners.

Middlebury CBC 2012 Data (pdf)

– Jim Andrews