Fish Crow
Fish Crow
Begun in 1900 as an alternative to the then-popular holiday “side-hunts,” where hunters shot as many birds and animals as possible in a single day, annual Christmas Bird Counts are now held across the western hemisphere between December 24 and January 5 each year. With over 2,600 active count circles, this was the 120th edition of the count. As such, CBC is the longest-running nature database in the world. Our local Thomaston/Rockland Count was initiated in 1970.

The citizen-scientific goal behind Christmas Counts is to capture “snapshot” impressions of bird patterns within prescribed 15-mile count circles, conducted within prescribed timeframes. Although it would be impossible to count every bird in a given count area, the cumulative effect of consistent data collection depicts regional population numbers and trends down through the decades. Much like any family photo album, photos taken in a single year would only provide partial information of a family’s overall history.

With field support from 26 observers and 12 feeder watchers, the Rockland/Thomaston count occurred on December 21. Ambient air temps and precipitation are often two contributing factors to count outcomes. In this case, early morning temperatures of 9 degrees F rose into the high 20s later on. Large freshwater bodies that contain waterfowl, such as Chickawaukie Lake, were solidly frozen. Fortunately it was a windless day, adding to the comfort of participants and allowing for prime listening conditions. And with little or no snow cover, travel by car or foot was uncomplicated this time.

What was seen? At day’s end, 6,815 individual birds were tallied, comprising 71 separate species. Despite relatively broad species diversity, numbers were relatively low for certain species. As we’ve said before, the general makeup of count lists shifts from year to year but, remember, it’s the long-term patterns that tell the real story.

Winter finches: Likely due to current super-abundances of cone, seed and fruit crops in Canadian regions, there is little need for irruptive finches to venture far southward this year. The meager finch highlights were 9 red crossbills, 3 white-winged crossbills and 3 purple finches; American goldfinches totaled 103.

Songbirds: As many folks have noted, birds are scarce at feeding stations this winter. Two lingering catbirds, a pine warbler and three ruby-crowned kinglets were good finds, and a late yellow-bellied sapsucker was a bonus. A group of fish crows (a smaller and more southerly species than the familiar American crows) now nests and winters in Rockland.

Waterfowl: Except for mallard ducks, waterfowl numbers were slightly low this year. Mallard numbers continue to rise (1,006) and outpace declining numbers of black ducks (89). Common eider numbers have diminished markedly within the recent decade.

Raptors: Eight species of raptors were found on count day or during the count week period. An adult peregrine falcon spotted on the towers of the Dragon Cement Plant was a treat. And owls are always a specialty count item. In the pre-dawn hours, three barred owls were tallied. A more unusual species, a hunting short-eared owl, was seen cruising like a giant moth above the expansive hayfields of South Thomaston.

T H O M A S T O N / R O C K L A N D   C H R I S T M A S   B I R D   C O U N T

December 21, 2019
Common Loon 110 Savannah Sparrow 3
Red-necked Grebe 17 Song Sparrow 40
Horned Grebe 50 Wh-thrt Sparrow 51
Great Cormorant 2 Dark-eyed Junco 270
Great Blue Heron 2 Purple Finch 3
Canada Goose 283 House Finch 90
Am. Black Duck 89 Red Crossbill 9
Mallard 1006 Wh-winged Crossbill 3
American Wigeon 4 American Goldfinch 103
Common Eider 249 House Sparrow 123
Long-tailed Duck 136 Bald Eagle 18
Black Scoter 11 Wild Turkey 61
Surf Scoter 78 Purple Sandpiper 4
Wh-winged Scoter 4 Ring-billed Gull 18
Common Goldeneye 110 Herring Gull 651
Bufflehead 387 Gr. Black-backed 13
Hooded Merganser 2 Kittiwake 2
Common Merganser 32 Razorbill 5
Rd-breast Merganser 100 Black Guillemot 41
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 Rock Pigeon 297
Cooper’s Hawk 1 Mourning Dove 367
Ruffed Grouse 1 Barred Owl 3
Red-tail Hawk 14 Short-eared Owl 1
Peregrine Falcon 1 R-bellied Woodpecker 6
R-breast Nuthatch 29 Y-bellied Sapsucker 1
Wh-breast Nuthatch 43 Downy Woodpecker 27
Bl-capped Chickadee 379 Hairy Woodpecker 28
Tufted Titmouse 22 Pileated Woodpecker 12
Brown Creeper 18 Blue Jay 197
Gold-crwnd Kinglet 23 American Crow 445
Ruby-crwnd Kinglet 3 Fish Crow 1
American Robin 186 Common Raven 13
Gray Catbird 71 total species with grand
N. Mockingbird 1 total of 6,818. *Northern
Cedar Waxwing 36 Harrier, Rough-legged
Northern Shrike 1 Hawk, American Kestrel
European Starling 590 and Belted Kingfisher
Pine Warbler 1 were seen during the week
Northern Cardinal 59 of the count, but not on
Am. Tree Sparrow 57 Count Day.