Concord CBC: 20,082 American Robins

Hello Concord circle birders,
The Concord Christmas Bird Count is closed. Count day is December 29, 2019.  Please connect with your town captains November and December. First post is usually broadcast around Thanksgiving holiday. New checklists with the reformed taxonomic order are in the works and these should be ready for download by early December.

The Concord Christmas Bird Count, inaugurated December 31, 1960, is centered on a point where the towns of Concord, Sudbury, Stow, and Maynard converge, defining the center point of a circle that entirely or partially encloses eighteen towns. Our first count had 23 participants in six parties in Concord and a single volunteer in neighboring Lincoln. Modern participation levels fluctuate between 260 and 300 field participants and feeder watchers. Our complete results with effort data will be posted end of February.





A few species seen on the first count such as ring-necked pheasant (94) and ruffed grouse (23) are all but totally extinct today. Evening grosbeaks were a common spectacle on feeder boards and crabapples every year, peaking at 1,672 in 1983; this year the irruption missed us entirely for a count of zero. Purple finch (12) and house finch (0) were reversed in abundance similar to mallard (2) and American black duck (20). Rarities on this prehistoric date were pileated woodpecker (1), tufted titmouse and Northern cardinal (Count Week only), and American robin (4) when the majority of our robins had highly migratory inclinations and the partial migrants and nomadic flocks we see on the count today were comparatively scarce. Red-tailed hawks (2) were soon to proliferate with the maturing and expansion of suitable forestland nesting habitat and it is now common to see one or a pair of red-tails soaring over every large agricultural field. Annual results have averaged 155 the previous 15 years.


Sunday December 30 our daylight parties pulled up their winter socks and set out early morning in bright, cool, and calm weather. Lakes and large ponds were open after an early December freeze-over and ducks had returned improving our species total from last year’s underachieving 78. Twelve of our 14 gadwall were scoped in a single flotilla with mallards by our Bedford sector leader. Hager Pond in Marlborough again delivered Northern shovelers, green-winged teal, and Northern pintails; the Acton sector tallied 4 of the total 12 on the School Street fields. Way to go, Acton! Hager Pond’s annual overwintering American coot appears to have vanished. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons have to eat, too.

Speaking of BALD EAGLE, this year’s total, considering multiple counts and level participation, may have achieved a new high of 14. Other records may be in the math for NORTHERN BARRED OWL (27), YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (5—a tie with one recent record), and possibly COMMON RAVEN (20) which is difficult to census because these intelligent and noble corvids show little respect for town sector borders and travel widely. But the most dramatic high is AMERICAN ROBIN (20,082)—over 18,000 roosting in Wayland’s Wash Brook—smashing 2003’s previous record 7,591. European starlings (7,470) have also formed a roost in Wayland, nailing to the wall a ten-year record for these guys, but far from 1971’s 18,000 before large dairy farms vanished.

We wrote the final chapter about the decline of herring gull on the Concord count and a record low this year for the once abundant RING-BILLED GULL (48) is not an unexpected postscript.

Unusual records this year are warblers, including a first PALM WARBLER that completed its migration early December on Pine Hill in Concord and was relocated and skillfully photographed by a member of the Concord College of Ornithology, which also turned up one of our two common yellowthroats. Wayland’s Wash Brook Rare Bird Detective Agency, open for business well before dawn when most birders have barely risen from their beds, located and photographed a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, a third record. The WBRBDA had  previously eBirded the robin and starling roosts and turned up one of our three wintering gray catbirds. Dumetella, which means (in Latin I presume) “small thicket” is the genus name for this plain gray small-thicket bird with a black cap and mahogany undertail that is perfectly happy to dine on oriental bittersweet fruit when little else is spread on winter’s austere buffet table.

Let us respect the bravery of these rare winter visitors and all the other birds and wildlife now settled into their winter home, for frigid wind and harsh weather and scarcity impose a cruel and unforgiving test of animal adaptation and survival.

Finally, special thanks to our skilled and ambitious young birders who join us every year and contribute their keen eyes, ears, and skill to the count because they are of course our future CBC counters and leaders and another extravagant thank you to our sponsor, SUDBURY VALLEY TRUSTEES, and executive director Lisa Vernegaard who hosts our countdown and pot luck supper in SVT’s Wolbach farmhouse.

Please join us again this year Sunday December 29, 2019 for another adventure in winter birding.

Results! Our effort numbers and checklist can be opened here.


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National Audubon’s 119th Winter Bird Count

Welcome to the Concord CBC! We are open for business and volunteers are encouraged to connect with their town coordinators and team captains in the next month. New participants should browse our site and get the details for counting feeder birds and joining a field party. Checklists with instructions for collecting and compiling your observations can be downloaded and printed at home or filled in electronically. If you do not live in the circle and plan to join the count please choose a town that has spots for new participants.

Countdown potluck* is Wednesday January 2 at Sudbury Valley Trustees 18 Wolbach Road (Route 27) Sudbury. Gates open 6:30 p.m. We can admit forty, including essential personnel, leaving space for about twenty guests to join the fun. For the potluck please bring your favorite dishes; contributions can be a main, salad, or dessert. There is a kitchen with ovens and stovetop for reheating. We need a few people to bring drinks and stick around after the event to help clean up.

Sudbury Valley Trustees, a regional land trust with over 2,400 acres in perpetual conservation, sponsors the Concord Christmas Bird Count and generously provides the Wolbach farmhouse for our countdown evening. Several SVT properties are enclosed in our circle and get censused on count day. Please explore their website and become a member. Share your skills and talents as a trip leader or program developer and volunteer.

Our circle may witness a strong flight of winter finches judging from county reports of purple finch numbers and, to the surprise and delight of bird lovers, evening grosbeaks populating fruit trees and feeders all over New England and further south. Middlesex eBird is broadcasting rare bird alerts for red crossbill—flyovers and a few individuals on cones. Time and effort spent learning the flight calls of both crossbill species and evening grosbeak will pay off in birding gold. Common redpolls are showing on the edges of the radar so keep an ear cocked for these as well and scan those seedy thickets and catkin festooned birches. Irruptives other than the finches include red-breasted nuthatch and bohemian waxwing though bohemians, like white-winged crossbills and pine grosbeaks, have barely crossed the northwestern margins of the state.

Ron Pittaway writes a winter finch fore-cast every year. I have augmented this year’s edition with eBird range maps. See it here. I will update the maps near end of December. (We’ve had some purple finch incursions that evaporated by count day.)

The Christmas Bird Count is owned and operated by National Audubon Society in partnership with Bird Studies Canada, the North American Breeding Bird Survey, and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Veteran field participants remember when they actually had to pay to participate. Joining the the count is free but it still needs your contributions. Please consider a donation to the CBC to support the science and the welfare of our North American birds. Follow the Audubon heron logo below.



*Implementation of Chapter 230 of the Acts of 2014, “An Act Relative to Potluck Events” 
Evening Grosbeak copyright 2018 by Holly Wach. Used by permission. All other images are public domain.

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