Concord CBC - Birding in the Anthropocene

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Norman Levey

Jan 15, 2024, 9:00:32 PMJan 15
The Concord CBC was convened midnight December 31 with 250 participants going afield and watching feeders. We censused whole or parts of eighteen towns within a 15-mile diameter circle or, more aptly, a hollow cylinder (as most of our birds travel through the air). Our 64th count day was notable for extended fall weather—bare ground, partly cloudy skies, 34-39 degrees, a light breeze, ice-free lakes and ponds, inundated and impassible trails and roadsides we typically see early spring—call it the Great Winter Flood of 2023.

Delayed migration and consequent pile ups were plain to see with 19 to 21 record high totals recorded. Field groups watched trees festooned with cacophonous mobs of mixed red-wings, cowbirds, and starlings which made sorting and precise tallying a bootless effort. This count marked a new chapter in our history not for unusual species but dramatic numbers. Red-winged blackbirds flattened the previous record 850 (1985) with an astonishing 5,322. Common grackle, a bird that appears to revel in its own company, notched a new high of 4,251, almost ten times the 1984 tally of 442. One crop field during snowless December hosted an unusual concentration of 60 to 85 song sparrows feeding in a patch of yellow foxtail and showing little inclination to migrate. Unfrozen marshes harbored several lingering Virginia rails, a few marsh wrens, and possibly a sora.

Frozen ponds, rivers, and lakes may become an historical footnote, looking at our recent data for ducks and geese. The Flint’s and Walden Ponds of my youth iced over by the second week of December and opened mid-April. Who would have thought we would see common mergansers January to April? Mute swan, a feral exotic introduced a century and a half ago and unfortunately thriving with few natural predators joined the count in 1972 as a single and surged to 118 from 70 in less than a decade. This is probably our heaviest flying bird. We should expect more records for these swans going forward.

The hawks were not on the front page this year except for a high number of Norther harriers, cruising the marshes and crop fields, likely shared by more than a few field teams. So how many were present? CBC is a community science model for year-to-year comparisons rather than absolute numbers.

Bright overcast night skies silenced most of the owls except for great horneds which by the turning of the new year are calling near crop fields, undeterred by the urgency of pairing, breeding and locating nest sites.

The woodpeckers aren’t surprising us except for yellow-bellied sapsucker which has a new spot on the short field checklist as it has become an annual count participant and recently a successfully nesting bird in the circle. Northern flicker creeped up to achieve a modest count high but is statistically variable.

For a third year our high achieving early bird dad and son team in Wayland estimated another American robin communal roost dispersion of 20,000. This is the third winter roost count extravaganza for this gregarious species that survives winter feeding on crabapples and an austere offering of desiccated native and cultivated fruits and berries.

Our Marlborough-based winter finch detective, who calculates and plots the nomadic wanderings of the crossbills, tallied 30 of our 41 record total red crossbills. Last year’s abundant white pine cone yields were still hanging by count day. Pine siskins made a modest appearance but numbers for these have declined over the years since the many hundreds seen the first decade and a half on the Concord count. A similar legacy is the fate of the purple finch.

Three warbler species are fairly reliable annuals with another two making sporadic solo appearances. Pine warbler astonished us with a three-fold increase since the 2018 record of 8, now 23. Here is a warbler, like the orange-crowned, that finds suet and sunflower hearts a perfectly suitable winter diet. Common yellowthroat and yellow-rumped warbler are hit or miss year to year but have been fearless if not reliable count participants since 1971 on snowless CBCs.

I began this wrap up with the sparrows and the blackbirds because these birds dramatized our count by sheer numbers. As for the rest, a clay-colored sparrow, spotted among chipping sparrows by the Concord count’s Founding Father and his field followers in Concord, is a second record (1971) and, by the way, those chipping sparrows made the record books, too, with 14, up from the usual 1 to 4. Several other species, including Northern pintail, common raven, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, brown creeper, winter and Carolina wrens, Eastern bluebird, hermit thrush, and swamp sparrow overtopped previous totals.

The upshot, boosted by the amazing robin, sparrow, and blackbird totals, is a new Concord count record 65,463 birds, felling the 2018 record of 52,501.

One confirmed new species to the Concord count: a Northern bobwhite photographed under a Sudbury feeder. A mysterious oriole on suet has been a topic of discussion and consideration.

Many thanks to our captains, coordinators, compilers and field and feeder watching volunteers for another successful CBC, but a special tribute is in order to the Director of the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Geoff LeBaron, who is retiring this year after 37 years at the helm of this historic project. Geoff, in my experience, answers emails personally—and he oversees more than 2600 count circles. Thanks, again, Geoff and best wishes for a well-deserved retirement.

I always sign off with an invitation to join us for “another adventure in winter birding” but this year’s count may augur a new era marked by dramatic changes in weather, the birds we find, and their populations. Nonetheless, please mark your calendars for Sunday December 29, 2024 when we’ll launch our 65th Concord count.

Norman Levey for the Concord CBC
Lincoln, Mass.

The following results may not be final. Definitive results will be accessible on the Audubon CBC website later this year.

Number of count day individuals: 65,463 - Record high.
Actual number of count day species: 99 - Record high.
Count week species: 3
Time frame: Midnight to midnight
Flags: HC high count, LC low count, US unusual species, CW count week, * spuhs, hybrids, domestics.
Participation: approximately 253 — down by about 30.

Snow Goose 4
Canada Goose 3,020
Mute Swan 118 HC
Wood Duck 2
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 2
Mallard 1,089
American Black Duck 200
Northern Pintail 50 HC
Ring-necked Duck 40
Lesser Scaup 10 occur. 6
Bufflehead 4
Common Goldeney 29
Hooded Merganser 111
Common Merganser 201
Ruddy Duck 1
Wild Turkey 126
Northern Bobwhite 1 US, First occurrence
Pied-billed Grebe 1 - many records
Rock Pigeon (feral pigeon) 462
Mourning Dove 1,173
Virginia Rail 9
Sora 1 - unconfirmed
*American Coot CW
Killdeer 3
Wilson's Snipe - 6 records 2
Ring-billed Gull 100
Herring Gull 5 LC
Great Blue Heron 10
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Harrier 12 HC?
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Cooper's Hawk 34
*Sharp-shinned/Cooper's Hawk1
Bald Eagle 14
Red-shouldered Hawk 8
Red-tailed Hawk 172
*hawk sp. 12
Eastern Screech Owl 7
Great Horned Owl 38
Barred Owl 3
Northern Saw-whet Owl 7
Belted Kingfisher 22
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 17 HC
Red-bellied Woodpecker 315
Downy Woodpecker 680
Hairy Woodpecker 161
Pileated Woodpecker 55
Northern Flicker 82 HC
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
Blue Jay 1,229
American Crow 540
Fish Crow 2
Common Raven 46 HC
Black-capped Chickadee 2,021
Tufted Titmouse 1,401
*Horned Lark CW
Golden-crowned Kinglet 394
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 13 HC
White-breasted Nuthatch 942
Red-breasted Nuthatch 24
Brown Creeper 80 HC
House Wren (4 prev. occ.) 2 HC, US
Winter Wren 74 HC
Marsh Wren 4
Carolina Wren 461 HC
European Starling 5,502
Gray Catbird 7
Northern Mockingbird 59
Eastern Bluebird 782 HC
Hermit Thrush 18 HC
American Robin 21,655 HC
Cedar Waxwing 424
House Sparrow 1,648
American Pipit 70
House Finch 1,068
Purple Finch 10
*House Finch/Purple Finch 11
Common Redpoll 1
Red Crossbill 41 HC
Pine Siskin 130
American Goldfinch 1,831
Clay-colored Sparrow 1 US (1 prev.)
Chipping Sparrow 14 HC
Field Sparrow 9
American Tree Sparrow 283
Fox Sparrow 20
Dark-eyed Junco 3,506
*White-crowned Sparrow CW
White-throated Sparrow 759
Savannah Sparrow 27
Song Sparrow 833 HC
Swamp Sparrow 86 HC unadjusted
Eastern Towhee 1
Baltimore Oriole 2
Red-winged Blackbird 5,332 HC
Brown-headed Cowbird 380
Rusty Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 4,251 HC
*blackbird sp. 247
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Pine Warbler 23 HC
Common Yellowthroat 5
Northern Cardinal 757

*Oriole sp. 1

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