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The 61st Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 19th. Birders were met with cold and calm and mostly clear conditions. Covid-19 required a change to birding procedures, breaking up teams and leading to an increase in the number of feeder watchers. Fifty-one participants broke into twelve teams and spent a cumulative 196.25 hours in the field while receiving assistance from an additional eleven feeder watchers. Five teams spent an additional 14.25 hours owling. As far as birding, we found 76 species, below our ten-year average of 80, but we did add four additional species during count week. A total of 13,212 birds were counted, which is 40% below our 10-year average. 

The most unusual bird of the count was a king eider taken by a hunter at the mouth of the Little Otter Creek. This species has never before been recorded on the count. 

Waterfowl numbers were low. We had the fewest common loons since 1989, the fewest horned grebes since 1975, and the fewest common goldeneye in the history of the count (previous low 146 in 1988). Species found on only one territory included the king eider,horned grebes, gadwall, and N. pintail. We also found an unusually low number of gulls: the fewest great black-backed gulls since 1977, the fewest ever herring gulls (previous low 15 in 1961), and the fewest ring-billed gulls since 2000. 

Woodpeckers were abundant. Red-bellied woodpeckers populations continue to grow and this year’s 67 set a new record for the fourth consecutive year. We saw the most downy woodpeckers since 1988 and the most hairys since 1975. In addition, a yellow-bellied sapsucker made an appearance for the fifth time in the last ten counts. The first ever yellow-bellied sapsucker for the count appeared in 2007. 

A few hawk and owl species were particularly abundant. The 105 red-tailed hawks topped the record 97 set in 2000, and 24 great-horned owls topped the previous record of 19 set in 2014. Short-eared owls have been found around the region and our 12 were the most seen since 1981. And a snowy owl put in an appearance near the mouth of Dead Creek. 

The additional feeder watchers helped bump up the numbers of some of our more common species. We set records for the numbers of tufted titmice (225, previous record 158 in 2010), white-breasted nuthatch (236, previous record 207 in 2005), northern cardinal (349, previous record 280 in 2014), and Carolin wren (17, previous record 12 in 2005). Additionally, we set a record for red-breasted nuthatches (257, previous record 159 in 1997) with the New York section finding an astonishing 221. While not a feeder bird, we also set a record for common ravens (77, previous record 67 in 2015). 

We missed waxwings completely. This was the first time since 1973 that no cedar waxwings were recorded on the count. 

Winter finches were abundant. Common redpolls were found on eight territories. We had the most pine siskins since 2008, all but one found in a large flock near Vergennes. This was the sixth ever appearance for red crossbills and tenth for white-winged crossbills, and the first time that both were found in the same count since 1997. We also had a count week pine grosbeak.

As our winters warm we find a number of species appearing more regularly. I’ve already mentioned the yellow-bellied sapsucker. We’ve had hermit thrushes in each of our last three years. And we’ve had both ruby-crowned kinglets and savannah sparrows in five of the last seven years. 

Thirteen species were found by all of our field teams: red-tailed hawk, rock pigeon, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, blue jay, common raven, American crow, black-capped chickadee, European starling, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, American tree sparrow, and house sparrow. 

Seventeen species were found by only one group: 

● From Charlotte: peregrine falcon, belted kingfisher, ruby-crowned kinglet ● From Button Bay: horned grebe, gadwall, northern pintail 

● From New York: American kestrel, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, hermit thrush red crossbill 

● From New Haven/Monkton: yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern shrike ● From Hawkins Bay: brown-headed cowbird, snowy owl 

● From Otter Creek East/Vergennes: northern saw-whet owl 

● mouth of Little Otter Creek duck hunter: king eider 

Thank you to all the participants. We look forward to heading out to the field again for next year’s count on Saturday December 18, 2021. The complete species list and count is below.  

A full list of species can be seen here.

– Mike Winslow

Held Sunday December 20th, 2020, this year 41 field birders and 34 observers at feeders located and identified 17,289 birds of 68 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 20th. 

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.  

Due to the pandemic, the National Audubon Society issued safety guidelines that needed to be met before any count could be held. All in-person compilation gatherings needed to be cancelled. Social distancing and/or  masking were required at all times in the field. Carpooling could only occur within existing familiar or social “pod” groups and activities had to comply with all current state and municipal COVID-19 guidelines. Many counts  added their own additional safety restrictions. For our Middlebury count, we sent many of our volunteers out on solo birding routes on foot or divided up territories so that birders in cars could bird alone or with a family member.  We had solo birders covering almost all of the Trail Around Middlebury and bushwhacking on their own private  land or public land within our count circle. Since so many people were at home due to the pandemic, we had  record numbers of volunteers watching their own bird feeders and reporting the birds they had seen. 

All arrangements for territory coverage and team make up needed to be take place via e-mail prior to the  count, since we had to skip our usual 6 AM organizational breakfast at Rosie’s Restaurant. Owlers started the day in the predawn blackness and field birders headed out at dawn or shortly thereafter. 

We also had to skip our usual compilation dinner after the count. Instead we met via Zoom to share stories  and our preliminary data. Report forms from feeder-watchers and field teams came in over the next few days.  Final results of our count were then compiled and entered online and made available for casual browsing or  scientific study at the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) website. Those results can be accessed at Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.  

The weekend before our count, the southern end of Lake Champlain and other bodies of still-water in our  count circle were still open, raising hopes of finding waterfowl and other water-related birds during our survey.  However, as is often the case, cold night-time temperatures a few days prior to our count froze our still water and  drove many water birds either north to open water in the wider portions of Lake Champlain or south to the ocean  coast. We located only seven of the 44 water-related species found during our count over its history. This  compares to our average of 11.7 water-related species located over the 32 years of our count. This was one of only  three years during our count’s history that no one reported finding any Mallards within our count circle and only a  single Ring-billed Gull was seen. Both are certainly in the Lake Champlain Valley this winter, but most have left  our circle in search of open water (and food) elsewhere. 

With almost twice the number of residents watching and reporting birds at feeders, one might assume that  the record numbers of Tufted Titmice (188), and Carolina Wrens (25) reported were the result of the number of  observers, but keep in mind that both of these species are relatively new arrivals here in Vermont. Tufted Titmice  were first seen in numbers over 100 (111) in 2004 and Carolina Wrens were not found in the double-digit numbers  until 2014 (12). Another recent arrival and 2020-record-setter is the Red-bellied Woodpecker (91). They were  first seen on our count in 1989. They were first reported in double digit numbers in 2005 (12), and now for the last  two years they have been reported more often than Hairy Woodpeckers (60). That said, they are also a noisy bird  and easier to locate than Hairy Woodpeckers.  

Although a common summer breeder in Vermont, Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (2) a few have recently  become year-round residents. This species was first found during our count in 2007 but has now been reported during six of our last ten counts. This year, two-different teams reported wintering sapsuckers. Jim Andrews and  Kate Kelly spotted a Brown Thrasher in Bridport. This species is also a summer breeder here but was first  reported during our count in 2017. Perhaps this species will also be seen more regularly in the winter as our  climate warms. 

Chris and Preston Turner located an immature Golden Eagle along Otter Creek in Weybridge. This is only  the second time in our count history that we have found this species in our circle. In contrast, the recently  recovered Bald Eagle has been reported every year but one in the last twenty years and even this year without open  water, we found nine. Both Kris Andrews and Craig Zondag reported Rusty Blackbirds (2). This species is  declining in Vermont, but still can be seen with some regularity when more northern birds migrate through 

Vermont in the fall. This is only the third time during our count that this species has been found within our circle.  Brendan Collins spent much of the day scouring the east side of Snake Mountain for birds. He contributed the only  report of a Red Crossbill (1). This conifer-seed-eating bird has only been located twice before during our count. 

The Red Crossbill was not the only northern passerine species to migrate into the Lake Champlain Basin  this winter. Common Redpolls (639), Pine Grosbeaks (46), Bohemian Waxwings (15), Snow Buntings (57),  Horned Larks (335), Pine Siskins (15), Tree Sparrows (424), and one Lapland Longspur (1) were reported as  well. 

Common Ravens (67) and Eastern Bluebirds (178) were reported in record numbers. Both of these  species are recovering from declines suffered many decades ago. The 151 Red-tailed Hawks reported, easily broke the previous record of 113 red-tails seen back in 2013. Our six Northern Saw-whet owls broke last year’s  record of four and ten Short-eared Owls easily surpassed our previous high of three. Chris and Laura Slesar  flushed seven Short-eared Owls from a single tree near Nortontown Road in Addison. Both of these owls are  pretty unique. The Northern Saw Whet Owl is so tiny that most observers would not think it could be an owl. In  length, they are a bit shorter than a Northern Cardinal, but they have much longer wings. Short-eared Owls are a  respectable owl size but fly like a bat in a cheap vampire movie.  

On the other hand, not a single Ruffed Grouse was found. These birds were found every year for the first  23 years of the count with 26 reported in 1994 but they have only been found five of the last eight years. This  appears to be the result of a loss of the dense, shrubby, habitat that this species prefers. 

Our total of 68 species is barely higher than our average of 66.7 and the total number of birds seen (17,289)  is about average (16,951) but both are impressive given the lack of open water in our count circle. A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort between field teams and feeder watchers. This year we had an  excellent number of field birders (41) and double our usual number of feeder watchers. However, 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. If you are interested in reporting your feeder birds or  participating on a field team next year, contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 352-4734. 

Thanks again to all the volunteers and landowners.

A full data summary of the birds counted can be seen here.\

– James Andrews

Held Sunday December 15th, 2019 in Middlebury, VT

This year 41 field birders and 17 observers at feeders located and identified 28,839 birds of 62 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 15th.  This is ten fewer species then we found in each of the last three years and 4.6 species lower than our average of 66.6 over the last 31 years; however, the total number of individual birds is almost 12,000 above average.

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. Owling teams started the day in the predawn blackness. Field birders met them at 6 AM for breakfast and an organizational meeting at Rosie’s Restaurant.  After breakfast, field birders headed 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.  At the end the day, the field teams met at the home of Jim and Kris Andrews for dinner and a preliminary tally of the species seen.  Reports from feeder-watchers came in over the next few days and were added to the total count. Final results of our count were then compiled and entered online and made available for casual browsing or scientific study at the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) website that can be accessed at (https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count).  

 We had some very cold temperatures early this fall that appear to have driven many half-hardy birds further south.  In addition, our still-water froze and drove many water birds either north to the wider portions of Lake Champlain or south to the ocean coast.  However, to our surprise, large portions of Lake Champlain reopened during the days before our count and some waterfowl and gulls moved back into our count circle.  Field teams located 13 of the total of 44 water-related species that have been found during our count over its history. This is higher than our average of 11.8 water-related species.  In addition, Bald Eagles moved back in and contributed to an all-time-high total of 27 Bald Eagles in our count circle.  Bald Eagles often hunt for fish and waterfowl along the boundaries of the ice in our larger lakes and rivers.  Our previous count record was 15 Bald Eagles back in 2016 and our average over the last 31 years is only 3.3. Of course, much of this increase is due to a successful recovery of this species in Vermont over the last few decades. 

The most unusual of the water-related birds located during our count was a single Lesser Black-backed Gull spotted by Paul Wieczoreck.  This is only the second time during the history of our count that this species has been found within our circle.  This species is common in Europe and its numbers have been increasing dramatically in eastern North American over the past few decades. 

Many feeder watchers reported very few birds at their feeders this fall before and during our count.  This may seem hard to believe given that our total of 28,839 individual birds was the highest number of individual birds seen in the 31 years of our count and 12,000 over our average of 16,940.  However, it is easily reconciled given that the total of European Starlings this year was 17,463Eleven thousand more than the average number of starlings seen in our count.  In addition, numbers of individual Common Crows, American Robins, and Canada Geese were all well above our average,  Subtract the additional 11,000 starlings, 1,800 crows, 1,200 robins, and 900 geese and the total numbers of individuals of birds would drop to around 14,000 birds.  

Keep in mind that our starlings are not native.  They were introduced from Europe into Central Park in New York City by fans that wanted all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to be found in New York.  It is estimated that they released a combined total of 100 birds in 1890 and 1891. Those relatively few birds are the ancestors of the 17,463 starlings we counted.  Why are all those starlings here? It may be they are here for the same reason as all the robins, namely the abundance of small fruit this year on junipers, crab apples, dogwoods, sumac, and other trees and shrubs.

One reason feeder watchers reported fewer birds at feeders this fall, could be that those birds are finding plenty of natural food on their own.  Another possible reason is that almost none of the northern seed-eating birds have come down from the north this year. We had no grosbeaks, crossbills, redpolls, or siskins found during our count.  In addition, many of those species commonly found at feeders such as Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, House Finches, Song Sparrows, and Mourning Doves were here, but were found in numbers well below average.  Some of our low numbers during our count may well be that birds were seeking cover as a result of increasingly strong winds during the afternoon of our count, but despite that handicap, numbers of many bird species seemed low this year. 

Despite the challenges, our rugged field teams still found some unusual species for our count.  Spencer Hardy located a Chipping Sparrow at an active set of feeders and Warren King, Barry King, and Dave Hof located a Swamp Sparrow along Otter Creek.  These two species are usually well south of Vermont by December.  Also the team of Kathy and Gary Starr and Marcia and Jeremiah Parker located a single Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Shoreham (see photo).  Sapsuckers have become more common as wintering birds in the north as our climate warms.

 Wind noise makes it harder for owls to be heard by our rugged owling teams and perhaps harder for the owls to hear our recordings.  Still, for the second year in a row they located record-tying four Saw-whet owls, as well as three Eastern Screech Owls, three Great Horned Owls, and a single Short-eared owl.  No Snowy Owls were located this year, as was the case last year, but that is not all that unusual.  Snowy Owls are only sporadic visitors to our area. What was far more unusual was that no Barred Owls were heard or seen this year.  Last year we located 24 Barred Owls and our average is 5.3 per year.  

Our field teams found only a single Ruffed Grouse.  In the late 90’s we found twenty or more of these birds on our counts.  This is almost certainly the result of the loss of their habitat within our count circle.  Only 13 Wild Turkeys were found, but I believe they were mostly roosting and not easy to find.  

Other than the thousands of starlings, we set a couple other new record highs.  Mixed in with all the berry-eating American Robins were twenty four Northern Flickers.  This surpassed our previous high of 19 flickers found back in 2007.  The 60 Common Ravens found, beat our previous high of 57 and was well above our average of 21.6 birds.  This is another species showing a long-term recovery here in Vermont.

Our 17 Horned Larks was well below our average of 320.1 and our 72 Snow Buntings is disappointing compared to our average of 345.8.  They are harder to find when we have no snow cover. The snow forces these two species to the plowed edges of roads to find food and they are regularly flushed by passing cars.

Our total of 62 species is lower than our average of 66.6 and our lowest total in a decade but these numbers fluctuate annually based on weather events before and during the count, food availability here and north of us, and the availability of open water in our count circle, so I don’t believe they are indicative of long-term trends for most species. 

A Christmas Bird Count is a team effort between field teams and feeder watchers.  This year we had an excellent number of field birders (41) but our reports from feeder watchers still need to be increased.  Consequently, we are 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.  If you are interested in reporting your feeder birds or participating on a field team next year, contact Jim or Kris Andrews at 352-4734.

Thanks again to all the volunteers and landowners.

James S. Andrews

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

Do you live in or near one of the circles in the map above? If so, you should consider participating in the Christmas Bird Count. One of the oldest, continuously running, citizen science projects, the CBC has accumulated over a century’s worth of data on the occurrence of wintering birds. There are two ways to participate, as a field observer Read the rest of this entry »

The 59th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 15th. It was a fine day for winter birding with temperatures in the mid-30s to mid-40s. The day was calm with most teams reporting little or no wind. The ground was bare and we saw no precipitation during the day. Forty-six participants broke into twelve teams and spent a cumulative 139 hours in the field while receiving assistance from an additional three Read the rest of this entry »

This year 42 field birders and 19 observers at feeders located and identified 15,659 birds of 72 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 16th.  This is exactly the same number of species we found in both of the last two years; however, the individual species were different. Read the rest of this entry »

Do you live in or near one of the circles in the map above? If so, you should consider participating in the Christmas Bird Count. One of the oldest, continuously running, citizen science projects, the CBC has accumulated over a century’s worth of data on the occurrence of wintering birds. There are two ways to participate, as a field observer Read the rest of this entry »

The 58th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 16th. It was a fine day for winter birding with temperatures in the mid-20s. Gusts on the lake could get cold, but overall the wind was not too ferocious. The ground sported a light snow cover but little to no precipitation fell during the day. Thirteen teams spent a cumulative 162 hours in the field and received assistance from an additional three feeder watchers. Five teams spent an additional 16 hours owling. As far as birding, overall the numbers were average. We found 78 species plus one count week which is our 10-year average, and our total of 23,365 birds counted is but 5% above the 10-year average. Read the rest of this entry »

This year 39 field birders and 19 observers at feeders located and identified 15,963 birds of 72 species during our Middlebury Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 17th.

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.  Owling teams started the day in the predawn blackness.  Field birders met them at 6 AM for breakfast and an organizational meeting at Rosie’s Restaurant.  After breakfast, field birders headed out to their assigned territories. Read the rest of this entry »

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