Christmas count finds a few surprises
SARANAC LAKE — The annual Christmas bird count saw fewer birds than normal this year, but several species were spotted in record numbers.
Larry Master, a Keene resident and longtime organizer of the event, sent out preliminary results of the count, which took place mainly on Sunday, Jan. 1. Some sightings are allowed to be reported before and after the actual count day, so the initial report may change slightly.
“Sunday’s count was almost a repeat of the 2014 count with 38 species plus three in count week (same as 2014), and 2,202 individual birds recorded, 354 less than in 2014 and the lowest number since 2001,” Master wrote in his summary of the count. “These are expected results in a year with no cone crop, a typically biannual event. In contrast, last year with a good conifer seed crop, 7,655 individuals of 51 species were recorded on this count.
“Most of the birds seen this year were observed in the vicinity of bird feeders, notably those stocked with black oil sunflower seed or sunflower chips. (Feeders stocked with mixed bird seed rarely have any birds besides the occasional sparrow, junco, or mourning dove.)”
But despite the relatively low numbers, there were still some pleasant surprises for the counters.
“As is always the case, even in a year with relatively few birds, individual records were set for several species including bald eagle (five), wild turkey (97), and belted kingfisher (three, thanks to the mostly open waters of the Saranac and Ausable rivers),” he wrote.
This is the 117th year for the annual count, which takes place all over the country. Locally, the first count was in 1947, and happened in fits and starts until becoming a regular tradition in 1975. The Audubon Society manages the estimated 72,000 volunteers who participate.
This year’s Tri-Lakes count ran from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 1. Forty-six volunteers spent 99.75 hours of bird watching that day, and covered 446.75 miles by car, 50.7 by foot and 9 miles by non-motorized boat.
Master said that several bird species that were expected to be seen or heard weren’t, including the boreal chickadee, snow bunting and common redpoll.
“Redpolls should soon be making their biannual winter invasion into the Northeast where they are attracted by sunflower chip and niger seed feeders, but thus far they are ‘late’ arriving and there are only a handful of redpoll reports in northeastern states south of southern Quebec and southern Ontario,” he wrote.
Master also said that some unusual species were counted during the day-long effort.
“Several unusual birds were observed (or heard) included long-eared owl (only the second record in the count’s 61 years), cedar waxwing, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks (both chasing pigeons in Lake Placid), and tufted titmouse,” the report says. “The latter continue to increase in the area as they expand their range northward and into the central Adirondacks.”
In addition to the high counts of some species, many common birds were also seen en masse. Counters reported 459 mallards, 100 pigeons, 25 mourning doves, 29 hairy woodpeckers, 18 downy woodpeckers, 158 crows and 766 black-capped chickadees.
Red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches were also out and about during the count, with 66 and 43 counted, respectively.
The 2017 bird count will take place Dec. 30. For more information on the bird count, go to www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.