Last week I promised the results of the Mid-Cape Christmas Bird Count, so we’ll start there. This count, which covers an area from Sandwich to Dennis, was held back on the 23rd, on a relatively balmy, rainy day, before we had gotten used to single-digit morning temperatures as the new normal.
Looking back, that 55 degree day seems like a tropical paradise. We were blessed with a rain free owling period, allowing the usual complement of Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls in my area, but no Saw-whet Owls would speak to us.
Not long after sunrise, the rain set in, and didn’t let up all day. Both the landscape and our optics were fogged in, making sea watching and scanning fields and marshes a challenge. Songbirds were still active, but some seemed reluctant to come out of the thickets. Though we saw 80 species, my team had only one White-breasted Nuthatch and 4 Downy Woodpeckers all day, puzzling for these common neighborhood birds.
Despite the relentless rain, the soggy contingent of birders managed several nice highlights among the 126 species tallied on the count, including a Long-eared Owl, rare and fancy ducks like Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Blue-winged Teal, and some very late songbirds like an Ovenbird, a House Wren, two Eastern Phoebes, and a Baltimore Oriole. It looks like the Mid-Cape will once again take the trophy for the most species among the Cape and Islands Christmas Bird Counts, as the results for the two remaining likely contenders, the island counts, are already in.
The uncharacteristically chilly Martha’s Vineyard count was held on the 29th, with birders braving single digit temperatures and sometimes brisk winds to bring home 119 species on count day, including a nice collection of normally scarce Snow Geese, as well as a Ross’s Goose, their smaller, vanishingly rare cousin. Eastern Phoebe and Ovenbird were among the noteworthy songbirds, with up to three or four Bald Eagles rounding out the notable birds. Two teams on this count experienced fleeting elation during the pre-dawn owling as they heard the unmistakable monotone hoot of a Long-eared Owl, only to have their dreams crushed – it turned out these Keystone Cops of birding were too close to each other and they were just hearing each other’s broadcasted Long-eared recordings.
The Nantucket Count took place on a freezing New Year’s Eve day, but the all-star cast of birders this count attracts had been on island scouting out the good birds since at least the day before. The combination of advanced scouting and high-end talent led to a respectable 121 species, besting their Vineyard rivals by two. Their highlights included an amazing record of two Indigo Buntings, perhaps unprecedented for New England this late into the winter, as well as Ross’s Geese, a Grasshopper Sparrow, and a Dickcissel, plus an impressive number and variety of waterfowl, as is typical for both the islands in winter.
Barring any unforeseen ornithological events, next week I expect to recap yesterday’s Truro Christmas Count, which has the disadvantage of coming after many days of sub-freezing temperatures. And on that topic, I reckon we’ll also discuss what happens to birds in weather like this, and maybe some strategies for using the cold to your advantage for finding birds. Until then, I assume you’ll be taking advantage of the clean slate a new year brings and will be working hard on your 2018 bird list…