Concord CBC: An Unprecedented Year

This message marks the launch of our 61st winter bird count. Two questions: Will the winter finch invasion last until count day? And will we have a count January 3? I can’t speak to the first question because we’ve witnessed dramatic irruptive events in October and November only to see the purple finches, evening grosbeaks, crossbills, and redpolls vanish before the big day arrives. There is hope though for some late south-going arrivals such as pine grosbeak, bohemian waxwing, and with crazy luck a boreal chickadee as these three species have crossed the mid-state border.

This is an unprecedented year for the Concord count. Audubon CBC is allowing us to proceed if we observe all national, state, and local pandemic restrictions and guidelines for safe birding—though the count is not totally assured as I write. The Governor’s orders in force count week and count day (January 3) will apply. Check out the Baker Administration’s press release issued November 8. There are further links to a PDF with details and a sign up for COVID-19 alerts.

  • Audubon CBC has banned all compilation and social events. SVT— see you in ’22.
  • Feeder watching: yes!
  • Field parties: individuals and small groups, masks, physical spacing. Large groups of, say, more than five may not make sense this year.
  • Car pooling is allowed for household members, families, cohabiting individuals.
  • Note the stay-at-home advisory between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Taking a walk and getting exercise, running errands, and so forth as deemed necessary and normal are permitted but group activities and events are banned. If you are a midnight owl prowler go out alone or with a household member, not with a group, and wear a mask. Town coordinators should notify the police of after dark and pre-dawn activities. Post a placard in your car. There is a printable one on this website. Good owl results can occur the few hours before 10 p.m and the hour and a half after 5 a.m. If the stay-at-home advisory becomes an order stick to your yard.
  • Town conservation departments and the land trusts may have their own pandemic rules and regulations so check their websites or call. Signs are posted at popular trailheads. The National Wildlife Refuges have new COVID rules in force. (Details are forthcoming.) Town leaders! Please submit a list including all participants planning to access Federal refuge property to the chief compiler before count week. We need names but no personal information.
  • No requirement to participate this year (or any year, of course). Feel welcome to stay home and submit a feeder list and effort.

Phew! now that this discouraging topic is covered plan to have fun while keeping safe.

Job Opening at Concord CBC!  The Sudbury/North Framingham sector is looking for new leadership. The pay is rotten but there are intangible rewards such as making new friends and meeting great birders and feeder watchers in your community. This is a huge town with a vast number of feeders hanging in back yards and conservation parcels, river edges, ponds, woodlots, and crop fields that have not been surveyed in years.

Many thanks to Bruce Black and spouse Mary Brogan for anchoring and compiling the Sudbury count the last decade. Bruce and Mary are planning a fun retirement shortly after count day, sailing off in a luxury prairie schooner for a year-long North American birding tour, though I am not sure how their ducks are lined up in the present political or disease context. Stay safe, Bruce and Mary, and bring plenty of mosquito repellent as well as a stock of birding-themed PPE.

So begins our 61st winter bird count and may the new year bring peace, good health, and a return to prosperity, as well as some terrific birding.

Many thanks to our sponsor, Sudbury Valley Trustees, for their support and SVT-LOGOaccommodations in years past; we’ve already made a countdown reservation for January 2022. Several SVT properties are censused during the count. Please become a member if you have not joined.

The Christmas Bird Couaudubon-logo-post-pagent 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 ylogo_cornell-labour contributions. Please consider a donation to the CBC to support the science and the welfare of our North American birds. Follow the Audubon logo.

Photos: Norman Levey
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Concord CBC – 41 Winter Wrens

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.

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