On Sunday, Jeannette and spent the day participating in the annual Brunswick-Freeport Christmas Bird Count. For 14 out of the past 16 years, we have covered the “West Freeport” territory, which includes all of Freeport west of I295, with a corner of Yarmouth, a sliver of Pownal, and a notch of Durham.
As I have written about before, this suburban and exurban route covers a lot of ground. We walk miles upon miles of backroads, and we sample the public open spaces of Hedgehog Mountain Park, Florida Lake Park, and Hidden Pond Preserve. Our only waterfront is the Cousin’s River marsh complex, which was mostly open today – as were almost all flowing streams, woodland drainages, and the outlet channel at Florida Lake. This was the most open water we have had in some time.
The weather was fantastic: after a chilly start, bright sunshine and virtually no wind made for a pleasant, temperate day, and aided detection. The lovely morning even led to singing from some of our resident species, especially White-breasted Nuthatch, and territorial drumming by Hairy Woodpeckers.
By doing this route consistently year in and year out, Jeannette and I can use it to compare winter seasons. We like to compare the tallies to test our preconceived notions of the season, and we can even use it as a sample to gauge seed sales at the store for the coming months! 2019 was a good example of that.
Yesterday, we did confirm several recent trends and hypotheses that we have seen so far this winter. Native sparrows including Dark-eyed Juncos are very low, woodpeckers are above average, and “winter finches” have really cleared out. Even Pine Grosbeaks are now diminishing, but the bulk of other nomadic species have either moved through (Pine Siskin; Evening Grosbeak) or are just not around in large numbers (Common Redpoll).
Meanwhile, the very mild fall and early winter has helped “half-hardies,” like our first sector records of Hermit Thrush and – finally a – Carolina Wren survive. The minimal snow cover and mild temperatures usually keeps a lot of ground-feeding sparrows around through the winter, but this is not the case this year – low “weed” seed crops due to our summer-long drought continues to be my hypothesis.
Fruit crops, especially crabapples, are being rapidly depleted as Pine Grosbeaks and American Robins have moved through en masse of late. It will be slim pickings for Bohemian Waxwings if they arrive.
But perhaps most relevant was the fantastic numbers of birds that make up our “mixed-species foraging flocks.” I was surprised to tally only our average number of Black-capped Chickadees (310 compared to an average of 307.9), but Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpeckers were well above average (see below). Blue Jays were a little above average (but that number fluctuates widely based on acorn crops), as were Northern Cardinals. Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and especially Eastern Bluebirds reflected their continuing steady increase as wintering species in the region.
These are also many of the most common and conspicuous visitors to feeding stations, and our survey correlated with what we have been hearing at the store all season. We also noted that neighborhoods with well-stocked feeders had far more birds than wooded parks, neighborhoods with few or no feeders, or other less developed stretches. Clearly, feeders and their supplemental food are important to our resident birds this year. And our bird seed sales, even after the massive finch flight of the fall has moved on, reflect that as well.
But yeah, our first-ever Hermit Thrush, Carolina Wren, and Pine Siskins, plus our first Ruffed Grouse in 11 years, and yeah, Pine Grosbeaks, were all nice, too!
Here is our full, annotated checklist:
- Begin: 7:19am. 20F, clear, calm.
- End: 3:45pm. 30F (high of 31F), mostly cloudy, calm.
- Party Miles/foot: 22.5
- Party Miles/car: 23.5
American Black Duck: 2
Ruffed Grouse: 1
Wild Turkey: 0
Rock Pigeon: 20
Mourning Dove: 46
Herring Gull: 11
Cooper’s Hawk: 2
Red-tailed Hawk: 3 (*tied highest count)
Red-bellied Woodpecker: 3
Downy Woodpecker: 30
Hairy Woodpecker: 13
Pileated Woodpecker: 5
Blue Jay: 94
American Crow: 115 (*new record high)
Common Raven: 2
Black-capped Chickadee: 310
Tufted Titmouse: 53
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 28
White-breasted Nuthatch: 47 (* 2nd highest)
Brown Creeper: 3
Carolina Wren: 1 (*1st sector record, finally!)
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 3
Eastern Bluebird: 31 (* New record high count…old record was 10!)
HERMIT THRUSH: 1 (Hunter Road, Freeport; 1st sector record).
American Robin: 13
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD: 1
European Starling: 28 (*new record high count)
Cedar Waxwing: 1
House Sparrow: 2
PINE GROSBEAK: 8 (4, Tidal Brook Rd, Yarmouth; 2. Eider Pt Road, Yarmouth; 1 Hunter Road, Freeport; 1 Murch Road, Freeport; first since 2008).
House Finch: 22
Common Redpoll: 2
Pine Siskin: 2 (* 1st sector record, surprisingly).
American Goldfinch: 53
American Tree Sparrow: 4
Dark-eyed Junco: 18
White-throated Sparrow: 1
Song Sparrow: 2
Northern Cardinal: 18
- 39 total species (*new record)
- 1,001 total individuals.