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Monday, December 19, 2011

51st Plainfield Christmas Bird Count

“Atypical” would be a good word to describe the 51st Plainfield Christmas Bird Count. Warm temperatures leading up to the count and the absence of snow likely played a role in the birds we encountered. While the number of species seen (37) was higher than average, the total number of individuals was rather low. Many of the “common” birds were sparse, and extremely low counts were reported for many species including chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and woodpeckers. With an abundance of open ground and hence plenty of foraging area for birds, it is possible that the usual year-round residents were dispersed across a larger area than normal, rather than being concentrated at feeders.

While most birds were hard to find, some appeared in record numbers. New high counts were set for American Robin and Canada Goose, both of which have likely been taking advantage of the mild weather. Other lingering birds included a White-throated Sparrow and a Red-winged Blackbird, both found visiting feeders during the count day. An immature Herring Gull, the first on the count in 12-years, was also probably taking advantage of the unusually large amount of open water in the count circle.

The crown jewel of this year’s CBC had to be a Golden Eagle observed near Marshfield Mountain. Not only are Golden Eagles rare year-round, they are especially rare outside of fall migration, which typically tapers off in mid-November. This was the first Golden Eagle on the count in its 50-year history.
Preliminary results of the Plainfield CBC are shown below:

Canada Goose 830
Mallard 6
Hooded Merganser 3
Common Merganser 2
Ruffed Grouse 5
Wild Turkey 83
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk cw
Herring Gull 1
Rock Pigeon 77
Mourning Dove 44
Downy Woodpecker 20
Hairy Woodpecker 25
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Blue Jay 54
American Crow 175
Common Raven 14
Black-capped Chickadee 481
Tufted Titmouse 9
Red-breasted Nuthatch 25
White-breasted Nuthatch 23
Brown Creeper 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet 7
American Robin 27
European Starling 207
Cedar Waxwing 32
American Tree Sparrow 17
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 35
Northern Cardinal 9
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Purple Finch 13
House Finch 14
Pine Siskin 61
American Goldfinch 266
Evening Grosbeak 18
House Sparrow 6

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vermont Christmas Bird Counts

Birdwatchers across the western hemisphere are filling their feeders and dusting off their binoculars for the 112th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). In Vermont, over a dozen counts will take place, with volunteers spreading out across the pre-determined study-area in an effort to census the winter bird population, leaving no chickadee uncounted. Some counts have taken place for decades, allowing scientists to learn how bird populations are changing over time. In fact, the large, long-term dataset created by the CBC is now used by the EPA as one of their major indicators of global climate change.

Last year, over 60,000 people took aprt in 2,160 counts across 31 countries/territories, setting records. The success of the CBC is due in a large part to the masses of volunteers who count birds for the sake of fun, science, and tradition. Most counts conclude with a potluck dinner, with rarities seen throughout the day being kept secret until everyone is gathered together, so they can be properly boasted. Most counts also welcome new participants, so if you’ve never taken part before, make this holiday season your first and come count some birds!

More info about the Christmas Bird Count


Jan. 1
Contact: Charlie Brown

Dec. 28
Contact: Bonnie Dundas

Dec. 17
Contact: Al Merritt

Dec. 18
Contact: Shirley Johnson
Compiler: Eric Lazarus

Champlain Islands/St. Albans
Dec. 18
Contact: Liz Alton

Dec. 17
Contact: Mike Winslow

Jan. 1
Contact: Daniel Crook

Dec. 31
Contact: Paul Wieczoreck

Island Pond
Dec. 15
Contact: Jayson Benoit

Mad River Valley/Northfield
Dec. 16
Contact Pat Folsom

Dec. 18
Contact: Jim Andrews

Mt. Abraham
Dec. 17
Contact: Randy Durand

Dec. 17
Contact: Chip Darmstadt

Randolph Area
Dec. 17
Contact: Rick Enser

Dec. 31
Contact: Roy Pilcher

Saxton's River
Dec. 17
Contact: Don Clark

Dec. 18
Contact: Hugh Putnam

Dec. 17
Contact: Ruth Stewart


Dec. 28
Contact: Sally Laughlin

Monday, December 12, 2011

Antique Bird Names

Ever see a flock of snowflakes fluttering above a snowy field? How about bullbats cruising over dimly-lit city streets? Or, have you ever seen a sparrow hawk perched patiently on a telephone line? Even sharp birders may not recognize some of these as archaic bird names. All languages evolve over time, but it seems that that bird nomenclature has a relatively short half-life. Bird names change for many reasons, but here are a few of our favorite archaic bird names:

Snowflake – It isn’t too far of a stretch to picture a flock of Snow Buntings over a snowy field and think “snowflakes”. In fact, at the turn of the century this is how Snow Buntings were referred to. When I was first reading through results of the 1906 Christmas Bird Count, I thought the reference to “about a dozen” snowflakes as some kind of old-fashioned birding joke, but in fact, this was an accurate report, given the lingo of the time.

Traill’s Flycatcher – Some of the more exciting name-changing events for birders are when species are split, and one name becomes two. Named after Thomas Stewart Traill, a Scottish professor of medical jurisprudence and promoter of zoology and natural history in the early 1800’s, this nondescript gray-and-white bird became two in 1973. Now known as either Willow or Alder Flycathers, the two species are nearly indistinguishable by sight, but have different songs and habitat preferences. Sometimes, when birders see one of the pair but don’t hear their song, a bird will still be given the ambiguous label of “Traill’s”.

Sparrow Hawk – … is neither a sparrow nor a hawk, so some explanation is warranted! This out-of-date term was used to refer to the American Kestrel, who’s diminutive size derived the “sparrow” part of its name. But the “hawk” part just didn’t fit, as kestrels are a type of falcon, not hawk, and so the name was officially changed in 1973. Many raptors names have similar delineation, and terms such as Fish Hawk, Pigeon Hawk, Marsh Hawk, Duck Hawk, and others still surface from time to time.

Bullbat – Birds that spend much of their lives near people tend to collect a plethora of pseudonyms, and so it is not surprising that a bird that nests on rooftops would be given a nickname. Even the official name “Common Nighthawk” is a bit of a misnomer, as these birds are neither hawks nor are they strictly nocturnal. Others may know the Common Nighthawk better as a “bullbat”, which is a more fitting term. The birds are erratic and bat-like in flight, and cruise over city streets at dusk, feeding on insects. But anyone who has seen a Nighthawk display during the breeding season knows why they call them "bull". Nighthawks will dive bomb other creatures that wander too close, including people, complimenting their bat-like flight with the attitude of a bull.

What are your favorite Antique Bird Names?