On Sunday December 29 Concord CBC launched its sixtieth count day in calm dry weather with icy paths and treacherous walking and with 173 volunteers afield in 61 parties and 91 feeder watchers.
An early December deep freeze may have encouraged many of our birds to book a flight south. Our count day total of 31,809 notched record low abundance—but not by much with 470 fewer birds than 2011’s record. Species count plummeted to a ten-year nadir of 75. Compare this with last year’s 52,500 and 88 (with consideration of the Wayland Wash Brook 18,000 robin roost boost). The big freeze closed our ponds and lakes except Hager Pond, which must be situated over a hot spring, but rivers were mostly open with ice-shelved shoulders and coves, and we had a few species of ducks including gadwall, mallard, American black duck, Northern pintail, green-winged teal, and both common and hooded mergansers. First count records show mallard and American black duck reversed in numbers with black duck (20) and mallard (2) on the first count. Wood duck rarely appears but a gorgeous male was spotted in Concord a day late and was enrolled in count week. Mute swans were reduced and a typical number of Canada geese grazed crop fields.
Rare bird records this year were two SORA lingering along a spot of open water with three VIRGINIA RAILS in Concord’s Great Meadows. This is the seventh occurrence and first in forty years for sora. Many thanks to our expert medical and ornithological staff (MDs and PhDs) who open a practice at Great Meadows every year and put in a long day, walking ten miles for us. Next year we may add a podiatrist to the team.
One first for us is a count week GOLDEN EAGLE in Wayland, spotted and photographed the morning before the big day.
High counts include RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (10), MARSH WREN (11), and an astounding tally of 41 WINTER WRENS, slaying in a single day 2014’s record 17. If there is a wet woodland or marsh edge with thicket tangles, fallen trees and upturned roots one might hear (if not see) this tiny mite of a bird with an exceptionally large personality. Carolina wren (261), though not quite surpassing a record, has repopulated our circle after a bad winter for them several years ago. Call this the Year of the Wren. PINE WARBLER (8) doubled its 2005 record, with four seen at one time by a veteran birder in the Stow sector. GREAT HORNED OWL (67) may achieve a record high count adjusted for participation level, but in absolute number falls short by single individual. CHIPPING SPARROW (5) showed an uptick and is now reliable on the count. We may have a new high for SONG SPARROW (671), but adjusted for lower participation level the 1970 tally of 260 individuals may prevail.
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (313) hit a record low count, continuing a trend. If not for the hospitality of the Concord and Wayland sectors we’d only have 36! Winter habitat loss caused by mowing and edge clearing on upland town agricultural fields may account for low numbers going forward and weather, climate, and migratory patterns over time should be considered. Gulls are the same old story retold every year.
Birds we don’t see every count include EASTERN TOWHEE (2), which may survive winter in propinquity to feeders, and count week birds including WOOD DUCK (1), RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (1), and EASTERN PHOEBE (1) as well as the golden eagle.
The record of sixty years shows some dramatic changes and switch-a-roos for many species including mallard and black duck, house finch and purple finch, and declining numbers and occurrences for the once reliable and abundant winter finches such as evening grosbeak (1,672 in 1983) and pine siskin (1,258 in 1977); Eastern meadowlark was irregular but reliable; American kestrel was an annual participant in the count and we are lucky now if see a single individual; ring-necked pheasant and ruffed grouse once appeared on every tally until the last decade of the 20th Century and now have vanished. New birds such as red-bellied woodpecker sashayed in around 1980 along with an abundance of common feeder birds such as tufted titmouse and Northern cardinal.
Many thanks to our sector coordinators for all their work reaching out to volunteers and corralling their data, all our field and feeder participants who stick with us in every kind of weather, to our new young amazingly skilled and motivated birders who set out at 1:30 a.m. and persevere through the evening, and especially to our sponsor SUDBURY VALLEY TRUSTEES and executive director Lisa Vernegaard, who graciously hosted us in SVT’s Wolbach farmhouse for our potluck supper and compilation evening.
Here ends the story of the 60th Concord count but please come back next year, January 3, 2021, for another adventure in winter birding at its best.