The 119th CBC in New England

The New England Region totaled 131 CBCs during the 119th CBC season.  Birders participating in this effort included a total of 3713 counters (not including feeder watchers) who logged approximately 9655 party-hours in the course of tallying 213 species and count-week species during the count period. Difficult weather and birding conditions during the count period undoubtedly contributed to somewhat lower than usual annual totals. Additional but uncountable species and subspecies during the period included a Muscovy Duck at Bristol, and a “Yellow” Palm Warbler, 2 “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warblers, and several “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows.

Despite some difficult birding conditions on several count days, the season was not without some outstanding rarities including Tufted Duck at Westport, Eared Grebe at Napatree, Manx Shearwater at Cape Cod, American White Pelican at Coastal New Hampshire, Magnificent Frigatebird at South Kingstown, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Westport (count week), Great Black Hawk at Greater Portland, Whimbrel at Nantucket, Cape May Warbler at New London, Worm-eating Warbler (count week) at New Bedford, Harris’s Sparrow at Middlebury, Summer Tanager at Freeport/Brunswick, and Indigo Bunting at Cape Ann.  Other gems mentioned in the Region-wide hit parade that follows will hopefully encourage readers to explore for themselves the published count tallies for the specific details of CBCs of particular interest to them.

Although some counts experienced wet, windy, or otherwise sloppy weather this year, a few compilers recorded favorable overall count conditions with plenty of open water, virtually no snow cover (at least in southern New England) and relatively little snow elsewhere except in several of the more northern counts, and generally modest or temperate wind conditions throughout the Region. Despite these generally favorable count conditions, overall the total of 213 species recorded was notably lower than in a number of recent years (e.g. 220 in 2018).  Despite the somewhat depressed Regional species total, the grand tally of nearly 18,000 Wild Turkeys in New England is unequivocal evidence of the success of the Regional repatriation of this species now 40+ years-old. While less dramatic, the Regional total of 608 Cooper’s Hawks versus 249 Sharp-shinned Hawks is also a clear indication of the explosive recovery of the Cooper’s Hawk in New England. And the Regional tally of 1144 Bald Eagles and 2148 Common Ravens is a clear reflection of how successful these one-time wilderness dwellers have become to increasing development and the impacts of civilization.  But as noted last year, not all once-common winter residents are flourishing in New England.  Long-time birders will surely remember the days when a New England Regional Editor would hardly have been likely to call attention to Regional totals of Northern Bobwhite (12), American Tree Sparrow (5095), and Eastern Meadowlark (63) as indicators of Regional declines.

In looking more closely at CBCs conducted during the 119th CBC season, I encourage readers to notice some of the upticks in species occurrences as well as the downturns. Similar to the yin and the yang of Chinese culture, for every decrease in bird populations, there are inevitably increases. In other words, to quote a familiar pop mantra, “Keep your eye upon the donut, not upon the hole!” Our challenge as birders is to unravel the causes of these changes – not merely lament them – so in the future we can better understand how to reverse the negative trends among them.

Among the waterfowl brown geese continued to dominate the roster, with Greater White-fronted Geese at Springfield (count-week), Napatree, Westport, New Haven, Stratford-Milford (count-week), Quinnipiac Roxbury (count-week), and Bristol.  Cackling Geese headed the list of total occurrences with birds at Manchester, Greater Boston, Cape Ann, Southern Berkshire (2), Taunton-Middleboro, South Kingstown, Westport (count-week), New Haven (2), Woodbury-Roxbury (count-week), and Bristol. As noted last season, some of these individuals may have represented the same individuals or returning birds from previous years, but regardless there’s no doubt that both of these species are increasing in New England.

Other waterfowl highlights included Tufted Ducks at Westport and South Kingstown, a total of 7140 Long-tailed Ducks at Nantucket where last season the paltry total of 696 was a significant source of concern for this once abundant species on this count, and continuing robust numbers of Hooded Mergansers, with 6041 Region-wide.  Pacific Loons at Cape Ann (2) and Block Island (2) were the only reports for the Region, as was an Eared Grebe at Napatree.  Outstanding and well documented seabird reports included a Manx Shearwater at Cape Cod, an American White Pelican at Coastal New Hampshire, and an extraordinary Magnificent Frigatebird at South Kingstown, a first CBC record for the Region. 

Unusual and out of season wading birds featured Great Egrets at Nantucket (2), Greater Boston, Westport, Stratford-Milford (6), Old Lyme-Saybrook and New London; Little Blue Heron at Newport County-Westport; and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Westport (count-week).

Black Vulture continued its surge into New England with a Regional high of 449 individuals counted on 18 CBCs. Along with Wild Turkey this has to be one of the most rapidly increasing species in New England.  The only Osprey of the season was at Bennington (count-week), and a meager total of 68 Rough-legged Hawks was a clear indication that there must have been plenty of voles in the tundra homeland of this boreal Buteo to keep them in the Arctic this winter. However, single Golden Eagles at Plainfield, Southern Berkshire, and Lakeville-Sharon was a fairly typical Regional total.

Arguably of all the species recorded on the119th CBC anywhere in the United States, few can rival the Great Black Hawk tallied on the Greater Portland CBC.  This stunning Neotropical visitor that appeared in Maine in August ultimately settled in Portland through the fall, and then lingered into the CBC period.  Its story and entire legacy will no doubt be told elsewhere, but suffice to say that this spectacular vagrant was both a Regional and a national first record.  It’s presence in Maine was clearly the stuff that legends are made from, much to the delight of the hundreds of birders who traveled to the Pine Tree State to observe and photograph this remarkable first occurrence during its extended stay.

The only notable rail was a Sora at Mid-Cape Cod, and fancy shorebirds were limited to Semipalmated Plover at Cape Cod (2), Piping Plover and a most unusual Whimbrel at Nantucket, and a seasonally scarce Spotted Sandpiper at Cape Cod. For the second year in a row larids lacked the brilliance they sometimes bring to this column, with only Black-headed Gulls at Mid-Cape Cod, South Kingstown, and Greenwich-Stamford being slightly out of the ordinary.  Several notable seabird tallies at Cape Ann were thanks to a timely Nor’easter that delivered four Pomarine Jaegers, and a record-smashing 4682 Dovekies, 468 Common Murres, 357 Razorbills, and 34 Atlantic Puffins and the hardy observers who spent several hours sea-watching from a windy granite promontory in Rockport.

Always of interest, a total of 10 Barn Owls must have represented a treat for counters at Block Island (3), Martha’s Vineyard (3), Nantucket (3), and Tuckernuck because of the elusive and low profile of this species at the edge of its range in southern New England.  By contrast a cumulative total of 430 Barred Owls offered an indication of how this species has generally increased throughout the Region in recent years, while a comparable total of only 19 Short-eared Owls reflects how this species continues to slip away.

The majority of the Region’s 83 Northern Shrikes were in northern New England this winter, while a single White-eyed Vireo at Nantucket was the only one of its ilk in the Region.  A stunning Regional total of 3840 Bohemian Waxwings was in marked contrast to 37 total individuals reported last winter!  This lovely winter irruptive periodically offers some of most dramatic seasonal variations of any species regularly occurring in New England. The 119th CBC was clearly a Bohemian Year in New England!

Always exciting when discovered on a New England CBC, warblers seldom fail to disappoint.  This year the warbler hit parade featured Nashville Warbler at Nantucket, Greater Boston (count-week), and New Bedford (count-week); Yellow Warbler at Nantucket; Cape May Warbler at New London; Yellow-throated Warbler at Middlebury; Black-and-white Warbler at Greater Boston, and Westport; Worm-eating Warbler at New Bedford (count-week); Ovenbird at Nantucket and Mid-Cape Cod; and Northern Waterthrush at Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Napatree.

In closing out the season’s summary, mention needs to be made of Clay-colored Sparrow at Greater Boston; LeConte’s Sparrow at Taunton-Middleboro; Lincoln’s Sparrow at Greater Portland, Blue Hill, and Mid-Cape Cod; Harris’s Sparrow at Middlebury (count week).  Finally a Summer Tanager was at Freeport-Brunswick, an Indigo Bunting was at Cape Ann, and a Painted Bunting appeared at Greenwich-Stamford (count-week).  Unlike last winter’s paltry winter irruptive numbers, this season’s Region-wide totals were more respectable, as indicated by Pine Grosbeak (862), Common Redpoll (1829 versus 67 last season), Pine Siskin (1098), and Evening Grosbeak (1631).