2017 bird census

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 7:30am

Q. What do Ross’s goose, Virginia rail, Common raven, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Palm warbler, Field sparrow, and Fox sparrow have in common?

A. They were all seen on Block Island, on Dec. 26, 2017, for the first time during the 17th annual Community Bird Census.

Not since the first two years have we added so many new species, in a single year, to the overall growing list. I had thought it unlikely that a new species would be added to the list this year, as the day was blustery and cold, and birds did not seem to be active or evident. But, in the final tally, the overall list of bird species seen, on at least one Dec. 26 since 2001, was increased by seven, to a total of 118 species.

The newly added goose, rail, raven, kinglet, warbler, and sparrows fall into a range of expected, possible, and unlikely observations. For instance, the ruby-crowned kinglet, field and fox sparrows all winter in southern New England and south, so they are species that were likely to show up on the list eventually, and can be typically found on the island during the winter. However, the palm warbler and the Virginia rail typically spend the winter in the southeastern United States, perhaps as far north as the Delmarva Peninsula. Virginia rails do nest on Block Island, and palm warblers are regular fall migrants, so although their timing was off for a December sighting, they are not strangers to the island, and these individuals were either late migrants or stragglers that may have missed their migration window of opportunity.

More unusual were the sightings of the common raven and Ross’s goose.

Common ravens are a bird species well known in mountainous areas of the western United States, and in the far north across Canada to the Arctic, and in the eastern U.S., from northern New England stretching to the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. However, ravens are a recent arrival in Rhode Island. Over the last 10 years, the common raven has been regularly seen (although not in large numbers) in the mid to western part of the State. There are of course outliers: a pair has nested for the last three years in Providence, and a raven has been recorded on Block Island during at least one National Audubon Christmas Bird Count since 2014. So, the common raven seen by Scott Comings and Clair Stover on the south side of the island on December 26, 2017, is a rare sighting; but this species is being seen on the island on a regular, but infrequent, basis. And, is slowly expanding its range into all of Rhode Island, including Block Island. 

Ross’s goose — although abundant — is a rare bird outside of its normal range. Ross’s geese nest in the central Arctic, and winter in parts of California, Texas and along the Mississippi River valley. This bird, which looks like a small Snow goose, is very uncommon in New England, let alone Block Island. The “Block Island” Ross’s goose was first seen by Bruce Duarte, on or about Dec. 2, at Sachem Pond, and last seen on December 26, during the Community Bird Census. Throughout that time period it was regularly seen with Canada geese by several birders until Sachem Pond froze over, around Dec. 27.

What started as a cold harsh day for observing and counting birds turned out to be a success: 66 species were reported by 23 participants — the most species and the most participants for any of the past seventeen Community Bird Censuses, and seven new species were added to the seventeen-year cumulative list. It was not the weather that was the critical factor, it was the group effort: More people looking, more birds seen.

Birds seen during the Community Bird Census, Dec. 26, 2017:

Common loon – 8

Northern gannet – 2

Double crested cormorant – 21

Great cormorant – 124+

Great blue heron – 1

Mute swan – 19

Ross’s goose – 1

Canada goose – 181+

American wigeon – 39

Eurasian wigeon – 3

Gadwall – 23

Green-winged teal – 7

Mallard – 123

American black duck – 17

Ring-necked duck – 29

Common eider – 58

White wing scoter – 63

Common goldeneye – 28

Bufflehead – 87

Hooded merganser – 44+

Red-breasted merganser – 36

Ruddy duck – 9

Northern harrier – 6

Sharp-shinned hawk – 3

Cooper’s hawk – 2

Merlin – 1

RN pheasant – 4

Feral turkey - 5

Virginia rail – 1

American coot – 63

Black-bellied plover – 3

Common snipe – 1

Sanderling – 16

Dunlin – 8

Ring-billed gull – 25

Great black beak gull – 289+

Herring gull – 604+

Rock dove – 8

Mourning dove – 39

Snowy owl – 6

Belted kingfisher – 1

Red-bellied woodpecker – 3

Downy woodpecker – 3

Blue jay – 7

American crow – 209+

Fish crow – 7

Common raven – 1

Black-capped chickadee – 40

White breasted nuthatch – 1

Carolina wren – 3

Ruby-crowned kinglet – 1

American robin – 32

Emerald Starling – 366+

Myrtle warbler – 4

Palm warbler – 1 

Field sparrow – 1

Fox sparrow – 1 

Song sparrow – 32

White-throated sparrow – 5

S.C. junco – 1

N. Cardinal – 28

Red-winged black bird – 3

Purple finch - 2

House finch – 7

American goldfinch – 4

House sparrow – 14

Total species: 66    

Individuals: 2,783

Participants: Jon and Andy Petersen, Scott Comings, Clair Stover, Heather, Blaize and Chase Hatfield, Susan Matheke, Amy Keeler, Peter Kinoy, Mary Lutz, Judy Gray, Jules Craynock, Sarah Gray, Pam Gasner, Albert Littlefield, Quentin Dean, Chris Littlefield, Catherine Puckett, Chris Warfel, Kate Filin-Yeh, Chris Blane, with tour guide Kim Gaffett. Weather: 26 to 30 degrees F, partly sunny morning and afternoon, with 15 to 25 mph (gusts to 30) wind from west - northwest. Brrrrrrrrr.