For the Birds: Christmas Bird Count is always a highlight

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common loon in winter plumage on Long Island Sound.

The birding had been slow — not dreadfully slow, but slower than usual, for sure — when we rolled up beside some evergreens in a front yard. We noted a flurry of activity (finally) and stopped for a closer inspection.

A half-dozen juncos flitted close to the ground, flashing their white-edged tails. Suddenly, a yellow bird flew from one tree to another. Any yellow bird that is not a goldfinch is cause for “ID at all costs” during a Christmas Bird Count. Not that goldfinches aren’t welcomed species, but they are rather expected to be seen in New England in December. Other yellow birds, not so much.

It landed just long enough for us to get a decent look and for Frank to get a few good-enough photographs. It was a warbler, for sure. We immediately thought orange-crowned warbler as they are the warblers most often seen during a New England Christmas Bird Count. Frank inspected the photos on his camera — something that wouldn’t have been possible 20 or 25 years ago — and determined it was a Nashville warbler instead. In the flurry, we also noted a ruby-crowned kinglet scurry from one bush to another. All the while, a Carolina wren belted out a song from a telephone wire across the street. As a birdwatcher, you love those flurries. You really love them during a Christmas Bird Count.

Frank and I cover a coastal area of Connecticut and have done so for going on 20 years. For that area, we finished the Count with 52 species and close to 2,000 birds. Not bad, not great. We’ve had better years, to be honest.

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual citizen science project that has grown from 27 participants in the inaugural Count in 1900 to now more than 75,000 participants each year. Keene was one of the original 25 Count areas. The data is used by ornithologists and other scientists to track long-term trends of bird populations.

Yes, it’s scientific and for a great cause. But, really, most people do it because it’s great fun. It’s an excuse to take a December day and watch birds from sunrise to sunset (even longer for the owlers.) It does, however, become a responsibility for participants. You don’t want to miss a day and let down the birds or your fellow birders.

Weather plays a big role in the amount of fun you have. Here in New England, a mid-December day can be 50 degrees or zero degrees. It can be sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy, or any combination thereof. I’ve done Counts in blizzards and I’ve done Counts when it feels like early September.

This year’s Count was cloudy, cold and breezy. I’ll take it. It could have been a lot worse. The breeziness may have kept some birds hunkered down, but I don’t think the lack of birds we saw was due to the weather, except for the freshwater ponds. We visited a few ponds that had been frozen a few days prior to the Count so most ducks flew off for open water. We did see a lot of gadwall, a few ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers, and, of course, tons of mallards.

We had other successes, too, such as the Nashville warbler and kinglet. Other highlights included several hundred brant, a gray catbird, a peregrine falcon and seven common loons on Long Island Sound.

Frank and I discussed the demise of the monk parakeet. We used to count dozens of the bright green birds along the coast and this year we had only one fly over our heads. Its squawking alerted us to it. Monk parakeets, of course, are not native to New England, but an escaped shipment from JFK Airport decades ago led to an established colony along the Connecticut coastline. They used to thrive here; now, they are all but gone. They build huge, heavy nests made of sticks on utility poles, so we concluded that the utility companies must have had something to do with their disappearance. That’s just a guess, however.

Want to get involved with a Count in your area? Most local Counts have been done already this year, but start planning now for next year. Do an Internet search for “How do I join the Christmas Bird Count” and the first result will be a link to the National Audubon Society’s CBC page. You can also check out historic local results from your area.

If you do sign up, be prepared to have fun. Just be ready to bundle up.

Long Island Sound VII: Bonus photos

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-throated Loon swims in Norwalk Harbor in this March 2014 photo.

As it turns out, a week wasn’t enough to get in all the Long Island Sound shots I wanted in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. So here are some more. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Photo by Chris Bosak Brant at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, Connecticut, 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Egret stands on a deck railing overlooking the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., April 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Egret stands on a deck railing overlooking the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., April 2016.

Long Island Sound VI

Photo by Chris Bosak A Horned Grebe swims in Long Island Sound off the coast of Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Horned Grebe swims in Long Island Sound off the coast of Darien, Conn., Jan. 2015.

Here’s another shot taken on or near Long Island Sound, in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Long Island Sound V

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Oystercatcher walks along the beach at Milford Point in Connecticut, April 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Oystercatcher walks along the beach at Milford Point in Connecticut, April 2014.

Here’s another shot taken on or near Long Island Sound, in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Long Island Sound IV

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Owl sits on a rock on an island off the coast of Norwalk in November 2008.

Here’s another shot taken on or near Long Island Sound, in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Long Island Sound III

Photo by Chris Bosak
Purple Sandpiper on a rocky island off the coast of Darien, CT. (Dec. 2013)

Here’s another shot taken on or near Long Island Sound, in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Long Island Sound II

Photo by Chrisi Bosak A male Osprey flies above a female Osprey at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., April 29, 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A male Osprey flies above a female Osprey at Veterans Park in Norwalk, Conn., April 29, 2015.

Here’s another shot taken on or near Long Island Sound, in recognition of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2019 State of the Birds report. The press release that summarizes the findings may be found here. The full report will be available via PDF on January 1.

Here’s the link to my original posting, which explains why I’m posting so many photos of the Sound.

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey flies with a fish in its talons over the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey flies with a fish in its talons over the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.