The 60th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 14th. The morning rain gave way to a foggy but pleasant day with temperatures in the mid-30s to mid-40s. There was no snow cover and the lake was mostly open. Fifty-seven participants broke into twelve teams and spent a cumulative 143 hours in the field while receiving assistance from an additional six feeder watchers. Five teams spent an additional 19 hours owling. As far as birding, we found 80 species plus one count week, one more than our 10-year average of 79, and counted 18,520 birds which is 18% below our 10-year average.

Birders discovered four species that can be considered extremely rare for the count. A great egret at the mouth of Little Otter Creek was a first. Two species were recorded for only the second time in count history: a gray catbird in Waltham (only other record 1982), and a nicely photographed common yellowthroat from Button Bay (1993). Additionally birders found and photographed a fox sparrow in Charlotte, for the species third appearance (2001 and 2 in 1963).

Waterfowl numbers were mostly unremarkable. Species found on only one territory included horned grebes, white-winged scoters,red-breasted mergansers, and great blue heron. Two adjacent areas reported a single lesser scaup, but it’s not clear if they both saw the same bird. We did have a record number of double-crested cormorants (5).

Two woodpecker species set record numbers and we had a high count of brown creepers. Red-bellied woodpeckers populations continue to grow and this year’s 54 topped the record of 49 set last year. Our 24 northern flickers topped the 1994 record of 21. And our 16 brown creepers were the most since 1999.

While hawk and owl numbers were about average, we did have a three falcon day, picking up merlin, peregrine, and kestrel. The four merlins seen tied the record set in 2007.

The abundant juniper berries helped with our thrush count. We found five hermit thrushes which doubled the number found in the previous 59 years. Eastern bluebird numbers hit a record high of 158 topping the 2008 record of 135.

Overall field bird numbers were low. Only two teams spotted horned larks for a total of 23. We saw the fewest snow buntings (5) since 2006. However two lapland longspurs were recorded from Charlotte.

It was a good year for some of our less common sparrows. We found 143 white-throated sparrows, shattering the record of 87 set just two years ago. The 40 song sparrows set a record that had held since 1979.

Though most finch numbers were unremarkable, we did see 883 American goldfinches which topped the previous high of 781 found in 2015.
House sparrows and starlings moved in opposite directions. The 6,015 European starlings was the most ever, topping the 5,406 meticulously counted in 2017. The 397 house sparrows on the other hand was the lowest number since 1964.

Sixteen species were found by all of our field teams: red-tailed hawk, rock pigeon, mourning dove, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, common raven, American crow, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, European starling, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, house finch, and American goldfinch.

Nineteen species, plus a count period bird, were found by only one group:

  • – From Charlotte: white-winged scoter, boehemian waxwing, fox sparrow, and lapland longspur- – From Button Bay: red-breasted merganser, winter wren, common yellowthroat, and snow bunting- – From New York: horned grebe, snow goose (cw), ring-necked pheasant, and ruby-crowned kinglet- – From Kingsland Bay: great blue heron and brown-headed cowbird- – From North Ferrisburgh: American kestrel and purple finch- – From Monkton: wild turkey- – From Otter Creek East/Vergennes: short-eared owl- – From the Otter Creek West/Buck Mtn.: gray catbird- – mouth of Little Otter Creek duck hunter: great egret

Thank you to all the participants. We look forward to heading out to the field again for next year’s count on Saturday December 19, 2020. The complete species list and count is below.

Mike Winslow