The 118th CBC in New England

A total of 131 CBCs was conducted in New England during the 118th CBC season.  The “work force” participating in this effort included 5709 counters (not including feeder watchers) who logged approximately 12,798 party-hours in their efforts to tally 220 species and count-week species during the CBC period. Additional but uncountable species or forms included a European Goldfinch tallied at Westport, “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal (2) at Martha’s Vineyard, and several “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows and “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos.

Among the more notable species recorded on count day or during count-week were Great Shearwater (Cape Cod, 2), Pink-footed Goose (Napatree Point), Osprey (Quincy, Concord, and Greenwich-Stamford), Semipalmated Plover (Newport County-Westport and Greenwich-Stamford), Lesser Yellowlegs (Martha’s Vineyard and Newport County-Westport), a jaeger sp. (Bath-Phippsburg), White-winged Dove (Newport County-Westport), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Greater Boston), a Selasphorus sp. hummingbird (Woodbury-Roxbury), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Coastal New Hampshire), Varied Thrush (Peterborough-Hancock), Summer Tanager (New Bedford, Plymouth, Nantucket), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Cape Cod and Deer Isle), Indigo Bunting (Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Greater Portland), and Painted Bunting (Buzzards Bay and Greater Portland). In the editor’s opinion, the picks of this year’s litter were Bell’s Vireo (New Bedford), Wood Thrush (Cape Cod), and Hooded Warbler (Napatree Point, 2).  As in past years a number of reports not specifically highlighted in this summary were notable on the count where they were recorded even though they did not make the Region-wide hit parade.  Readers are invited to discover these nuggets for themselves.

Despite a few counts experiencing frigid weather and some precipitation, a number of compilers noted that overall CBC conditions were generally fair to good this year, and that little wind, not an excessive amount of snow cover (especially in southern New England), and much open water generally prevailed during the count period.  Accordingly, numbers of some species were higher than in some years, with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos especially standing out as being notably numerous this season. In fact sapsucker numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years, much like the numbers of Hooded Mergansers, Wild Turkeys, Black Vultures, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks, and Common Ravens.  But before we get too excited about these upticks, check out the numbers of Long-tailed Duck, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Bobwhite, American Kestrel, and Eastern Meadowlark on counts where these species were once routinely recorded, or where they were actually once common.  Not all species are living in Shangri-La!  While the reasons are many and varied for these perturbations, the fact remains that a number of bird species are declining, some for reasons that have yet to be determined.  In the case of significantly reduced Carolina Wren numbers in recent winters, the knock-down of this species following the severe winter of several years ago is fairly easy to explain, but how do we explain what seems to be happening to American Tree Sparrows and Purple Finches?  Not so obvious, I say……

As you peruse your favorite CBCs in the months before the 119th CBC season begins, what follows are a few additional thoughts to ponder or highlights to note from this season.  To begin, for readers who believe that Pacific Loons are now routine in New England these days, I would caution you to please continue to thoroughly document (preferably with photos) any candidates that you may observe on a CBC because this species is not as easily identified as some might suppose.  An Eared Grebe at Marshfield was the sole appearance of this species this winter. It appears that we are now living in the Golden Age of Geese!  Pink-footed Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese (10), Ross’s Geese (4), and Cackling Geese (9) are now virtually annual in New England, and especially the numbers of the last three are seemingly increasing every year.  While some of the individuals that comprise these numbers are likely repeaters from previous years, a trend nonetheless seems apparent – there are more of them, and they seem to be showing up in an increasing variety of locations, including suburban ponds and on residential soccer fields. Among other waterfowl standouts were Blue-winged Teal at Mt. Abraham (cw), Newburyport, and Newport-Westport, and more importantly the mysterious disappearance of literally thousands of Long-tailed Ducks at Nantucket this year, where the CBC total was only 696!  This circumstance that needs serious investigation.

As previously noted, Black Vultures are literally taking New England by storm, with nearly 300  being recorded in four states including two individuals at Middlebury and another at Saxton’s River.  Similarly, Bald Eagles are thriving in the Region, with a grand total of 992 in the six-state area.  It wasn’t that many years ago the CBC compilers were asked to record whether eagles recorded were adults or immatures!  The Regional CBC Accipiter totals also graphically illustrate the current status of these species in New England: Sharp-shinned Hawk (328), Cooper’s Hawk (753), and Northern Goshawk (13).  There are no doubt CBC participants who can remember the days when Cooper’s Hawk was scarce throughout the Region! The New England total of 112 Rough-legged Hawks clearly indicated that they stayed home this winter, but nothing like Northern Shrikes with their paltry Regional total of 13, which has to be one of the lowest Regional totals for this species in many years.  Golden Eagles were represented by singles at Burlington, Athol, Edwin Way Teale Trailwood, and Lakeville-Sharon.

Sandhill Cranes were only represented by single count week individuals at Quinnipiac and Litchfield Hills. Shorebirds were hardly mentionable, with only single Semipalmated Plovers at Greenwich-Stamford and Newport County-Westport (cw), American Oystercatcher at New Haven, and single Lesser Yellowlegs at Newport-Westport and Martha’s Vineyard (cw) being at all noteworthy. Larids were similarly lacking their sometimes brilliance, with only two Black-legged Kittiwakes at New London, 35 Laughing Gulls at Napatree Point and a single at South Kingstown, and a well- marked thayeri race of the Iceland Gull at Nantucket being at all significant.  A count week Forster’s Tern at Martha’s Vineyard sadly could not be located on count day.  All the expected alcids were recorded with the most notable being two Atlantic Puffins at Bath-Phippsburg.  Regrettably, results from the Stellwagen Bank CBC were not submitted this season, otherwise some notable alcid numbers would undoubtedly have been recorded.

One of the highlights of the season was a White-winged Dove photographed at Newport County-Westport.  Snowy Owls made a significant splash this winter with a Regional total of 103 individuals in the early portion of what proved to be a significant irruption. Barred Owls also were notably vocal in Connecticut this season, with 24 tallied at Litchfield Hills and 18 at Woodbury-Roxbury. Unfortunately however only13 Short-eared Owls were recorded on all the New England CBCs combined.

Although New England birders have practically become used to finding hummingbirds in early winter, this season the only representatives were a count week Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Greater Boston and an equally ephemeral count week Selaphorus sp. at Woodbury-Roxbury.

Arguably among the more unusual species in New England this year were White-eyed Vireos at Newport County-Westport, Cape Cod (2), and Mid-Cape Cod (cw), and a Bell’s Vireo at New Bedford that was present for quite some time.  Tree Swallows were tallied at Martha’s Vineyard (11) and Nantucket (4), and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher made a surprise appearance at Coastal New Hampshire.  Arguably one of the most unexpected species of this year’s CBC season was a calling and well observed Wood Thrush at Cape Cod for what may be the first-ever such report of this species on a New England CBC.  Only slightly less noteworthy was a Varied Thrush at Peterborough-Hancock.  Bohemian Waxwings were notable by their virtual absence this year, with only a Regional total of 37 individuals recorded on three counts in Maine!

Among the unusual warblers in the season’s hit parade were Ovenbirds at Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and New Bedford; Northern Waterthrush at New Bedford (cw); Black-and-white Warbler at Mt. Desert Island; Hooded Warbler (2) at Napatree Point; Cape May Warbler at Coastal New Hampshire; Yellow-throated Warblers at Eastport, Thomaston-Rockland, and Cape Cod; Prairie Warbler at Cape Cod; and Wilson’s Warbler at Greater Boston.

To close out the checklist mention should be made of Clay-colored Sparrows at Coastal New Hampshire (2); Plymouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Newport-Westport, South Kingstown, and New Haven; Lark Sparrow at Biddeford-Kennebunkport; Grasshopper Sparrows at Greater Boston, Nantucket, and Sturbridge; Lincoln’s Sparrows at Plymouth, Quincy, and New Haven; Summer Tanagers at New Bedford, Plymouth, and Nantucket (cw); Western Tanager at Lee-Durham; Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Deer Isle (cw) and Cape Cod (cw); Indigo Buntings at Greater Portland, Cape Cod, and Nantucket; and Painted Buntings at Greater Portland and Buzzards Bay.  The Regional total of 67 Common Redpolls essentially summarizes the extent of winter finch movements in New England this winter.