Iceland Gull (Photos by Don Reimer)
Iceland Gull (Photos by Don Reimer)
December 31 was a relatively cold but clear day for the 117th edition of the annual Thomaston-Rockland Christmas Bird Count. Lakes and pond surface were frozen solidly, but water trickled through sections of some streams. And with just a skim coating of snow, birders found good travel conditions throughout the area. Sub-divided into eight separate territories, the count area itself covers a 15-mile circle centered at the Knox Mansion in Thomaston. Only those birds seen inside the circle boundaries are tallied. Birds do use their wings liberally though, and we do our best to avoid duplicate counting of the same birds crossing adjoining territories.

Predicting what species we will encounter for any given count year is educated guesswork at best. Some participants even scout their territories prior to the big day, with no guarantee that unusual or “stakeout” species will actually materialize on count day. Species that are seen three days before and after the actual count date are recorded as “CW” — count week only.

We found few winter finches and no Cedar or Bohemian waxwings this time around. No crossbills or redpolls were recorded either. Snow Buntings and Purple Finches are here in limited numbers. A flock of 20 colorful Evening Grosbeaks and 100 Common Mergansers diving for small fish in the Georges River were Warren highlights. Mallard populations continue to climb as Black Duck fortunes wane. Because the two species readily hybridize, the more dominant Mallard genes are out-producing Black Duck numbers substantially. This year’s scorecard total: Mallards 692 and Blacks 93. An adult Snow Goose was found grazing the grassy athletic fields at Rockland Middle School with several Canada Geese.

Woodpeckers were well represented as Red-Bellied Woodpeckers become more common as wintering and nesting species. A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker was a really nice find — not much sap flowing these days. A single Northern Flicker was also discovered in Tenants Harbor, while a group of 5 Rusty Blackbirds was an unexpected bonus for the Rockport section.

Gull variety was somewhat limited this year, particularly among the so-called “white-winged” Canadian gulls that occasionally winter along the Maine coastline. A single Iceland Gull was recorded in Owls Head. I did a personal check-in with the leg-banded Montreal Ring-Billed Gull that has wintered in Rockland since 2012. Gull F2Z is loyally faithful to the fast-food environs of McDonald’s parking lot, but swoops down to greet my approaching car.

Now-familiar species such as Northern Cardinal (83 this year) and Mourning Dove (218) have become plentiful in recent decades. This was not always the case. Sixty years ago, both previously southerly species were scarce in Maine. The increases are reportedly linked to the boom in bird feeders and a progressively warming environment that has resulted in continent-wide northern range expansions of many species.

The Christmas Bird Count provides a century-plus winter snapshot of bird distribution across the Western Hemisphere. As the world’s longest-running database on birds, it reveals significant trends and perspectives that are not discernable in shorter-term study.