‘Usual suspects’ in Christmas Bird Count

Northwoods Notebook

Chickadees were prominent in the local Christmas Bird Count. (Betsy Bloom photos)

Early reports are that a weekend of splendid weather made for slim pickings during the local Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 15.

While sunny skies and temperatures soaring into the 40s might seem ideal for going out to count birds, it actually gave the birds themselves little incentive to flock to feeders, said Phyllis Carlson, who coordinated the count in Dickinson County. Some insects even emerged, giving the birds something different on the menu.

“It was a dismal day,” Carlson said of her own Christmas Bird Count results. “The weather was so nice and so warm … the birds were out in the woods, foraging.”

At least she had a couple of great horned owls show up to be counted — not unusual, considering she has a resident owl, Journey, to call them in. But they’d been silent and absent for several days, so Carlson figured they’d moved on — until they came silently gliding in when she let her dogs out in the morning.

“I think that was my Christmas present from them,” Carlson said.

Bluejays were also high on the list.

She also had a robin, again not unusual but not reliable for the December count. But the rest of the day pretty much was the usual suspects: chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches and the woodpecker clan of downy, hairy, red-bellied and pileated. She has a pair of pileateds regularly visiting her yard in Quinnesec.

Even some of the expected birds were in short supply — only a couple of goldfinches, for example, two pine siskens, no common redpolls and a scattering of juncos.

The other roughly two dozen people participating in the count reported much the same results. One did manage to turn up 40 snow buntings, but most had a less than thrilling day in the field.

She’s still waiting on some reports and has until Jan. 5 to get the total list logged with the Audubon Society.

This was the 119th Christmas Bird Count, an event set up by Audubon to establish an annual bird census in specific areas so a true comparison can be done of population trends over the decades.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile-wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Count volunteers follow specified routes, counting every bird they see or hear all day. The count this year could be done any day from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5; birds seen during the count period but not on the specific count day can be recorded but are given a specific designation.

The few other early reports in for other counts in the Upper Peninsula sounded similar in terms of few surprises.

Across the border in Wisconsin, Ryan Brady of the Department of Natural Resources office in Ashland said in his statewide birding report, “It’s pretty standard fare in the birding world right now, with modest numbers of mostly expected species well distributed across the landscape due to lack of snow and ice cover.”

One bright spot in a Christmas Bird Count there was a scarlet tanager seen in Brown County in northeastern Wisconsin, a first-ever winter record in the state for the species, which at this time of year should be in northern South America.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.