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.