The 56th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 19th in fine weather. Temperatures were above freezing, there was no precipitation, a moderate but not awful wind. Fifty-one people in 12 field teams spent 178.5 hours searching for birds. Their efforts were supplemented by five feeder watchers.  Conditions were good for birding. We were just missing birds. 

All together the teams came up with 18,754 birds of 68 species with one additional count week species. Over the last ten years we have averaged 81 species and 22,084 birds. This was the lowest species count for Ferrisburgh since 2002. That year, a light morning rain kept the count down and eight additional species were found during count week. To find a year with fewer count species including count week we have to look back to 1978, another year when rain and snow disrupted the count.

With all the open water we would have expected lots of lingering ducks, but that was not the case. We have averaged 19 species of waterfowl (ducks, geese, grebes, and loons) over the ten years prior to the 2015 count. The low was 13 species in 2009 and the high was 23 in 2005. This year we were only able to find 11 species. We only had one species of merganser when we usually have three. We missed hooded mergansers for the first time since 1983 and red-breasted mergansers, which are never common, for the first time since 1981. Common merganser numbers were relatively low, but we had more than last year. We had fewer common goldeneye than any year since 1998. Even our black backed gull numbers were lower than they had been since 1980. However, large flocks of Canada and snow geese which led to our overall high bird numbers. We even set a record for common loons with 126, shattering our previous high of 47 set in 2011. Most of these were spotted from Thompsons Point.

Field birds, always sporadic, were hard to come by. We had only one team find snow buntings and two teams find horned larks. Without the field birds the rough-legged hawks had less to eat and we had fewer of them (8) than at any time since 1978. In contrast, red-tailed hawks were out in large numbers, and the 93 found was the highest since 2000.

Fourteen species were found on all territories: red-tailed hawk, rock pigeon, downy woodpecker, blue jay, American crow, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, European starling, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, American goldfinch, and house sparrow. However, some of these species were still relatively hard to come by. We found fewer black-capped chickadees (615) than any time since 1979, and fewer house sparrows (445) than any time since 1966. American tree sparrows (99), our common winter sparrow, were also harder to come by and we had our lowest number since 1966.

Even with the low species count there were some rarities and hard to find birds. Thirteen species were found on only one territory including two species that were new to the Ferrisburgh count. A pine warbler was found in a mixed species flock in the Button Bay territory, and a lingering greater yellowlegs was nicely photographed in the Little Otter Creek Wildlife Management area. Three waterfowl species were found on only one count: red-necked grebe (NY), bufflehead (NY), and white-winged scoter (Charlotte). Of the remaining species found in only one territory, three came from New York (peregrine falcon, Carolina wren, and hermit thrush), and one each from Kellogg Bay (northern shrike), Button Bay (ruby-crowned kinglet), New Haven (savannah sparrow), Dead Creek (snow bunting), and Kingsland Bay (brown-headed cowbird).

Even with the low overall numbers we set records for a few species besides those already noted. Our 781 American goldfinches topped the previous high of 708 set in 2013. We had reports of 36 bald eagles. Even assuming some overlap this tops the previous high of 21, set most recently in 2007. Our 15 eastern screech-owl narrowly topped the 14 heard in 2013. Two northern saw-whet owls tied the high set in 1983, and with last year’s single bird represents the first time this diminutive species has been recorded in back-to-back years. The 67 common ravens tied the high count set in 2011. Though not record-setting, purple finches were also abundant and the 43 recorded was the highest total in the last fifteen years.

Thank you to all the participants. We look forward to heading out to the field again next December.

– Mike Winslow