20th Annual Community Bird Census: Socially Distanced & Communal

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 5:30pm
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This year’s Community Bird Census (CBC), on December 26, 2020, dawned cold and windy, but fortunately it was only partly cloudy; there was enough sun throughout the day to keep spirits up and bird watchers afield.

My expectations for this twentieth anniversary CBC were low. The cold and wind velocity did not bode well. Birds tend to hunker down, take cover, and seek out-of-the-way nooks of shelter in such weather. In addition, an important part of this twenty-year tradition is the morning meeting at Sachem Pond of stalwart souls to count and admire winter ducks, and then plan a bird walk together. At this point in our pandemic year, gathering in groups greater than one’s household is emphatically discouraged, and where possible, prohibited. Nothing about this year’s community activity was going to be customary or standard. I expected participation to be low. I expected bird observations to be scant. And, I expected that no new species would be added to the twenty-year accumulation.

At first, my expectations were realized. Only two people scheduled time slots to view through the spotting scope at Sachem Pond. With the scope-toppling, southwest 20-25 mph breeze whipping across the pond, and wind-watering eyes, there were very few birds to be seen in the early morning. So, after scanning Sachem Pond and taking buffeted views over Cow Cove down to Sandy Point, we divvied up a few areas of the island and dispatched ourselves to a day of solo birding. I had hopes that others might also be out during the day making observations to be reported, but I was cautious not to get my hopes too high.

Well, the bottom line is that it turned out to be a terrific Community Bird Census; with 63 species identified (plus at least one unidentified), three new species added to the twenty-year species list, and 34 participants (three of whom were under six years old).

Key to the success of the 2020 Community Bird Census was the number of people who participated. The 34 participants were made up of fifteen household groups, ranging in size from seven to one. Each group spent various amounts of time in the field, and eleven of the fifteen parties saw birds that were not seen by anyone else. Now that is how you build a community bird list!

It would be a difficult chore to identify all the highlights and interesting observations of the day, but here are the one-off observations – in no particular order:

• Three mute swans, which are generally plentiful and obvious, were only seen by Nancy Greenaway.

• Ruddy ducks, often seen in abundance on Sachem Pond, were only seen by Steve and Maura Smith.

• Corrie Heinz, roving around the island, reported many sightings, but was lucky enough to see and report single observations of red-throated loon, great egret, and American kestrel.

• Heather Hatfield also covered a variety of island locations, as well as her very productive feeders, and was the sole observer of barn owl, northern flicker, red-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed cowbird, and American goldfinch.

• Pam Gasner reported John Littlefield’s sighting of the only red-winged blackbirds seen.

• Clair and Scott Comings’ party reported the only laughing gull, and one of only two ring-necked pheasants sighted.

• Surprisingly only one downy woodpecker was observed, and that was by Maureen, Aria, Avery Quackenbush and Fred Betts; this party also saw a red-tailed hawk.

• A reoccurring pair of northern shovelers was reported by Heather Sniffen. Although these are seen each winter by Heather at a pond on Beacon Hill, this was the first year they have been recorded on the CBC.

• While painstakingly counting gulls and cormorants, I was rewarded with the only sightings of double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, black-bellied plover, dunlin, myrtle warbler, and two new species to the list – a single long-tailed duck and, a surprising and close view of seven red crossbills.

• Chris Blane saw an American bittern while hunting – I imagine they were both in a silent, still, stance.

• And, on a late day walk to the Ocean View Pavilion, Sam Spier and Kerri Gaffett observed and photographed an unfamiliar goose, which turned out to be the only snow goose reported.

The 2020 Community Bird Census – a socially distanced activity – was an amazing success in many ways. In the twenty years, this year had the highest number of participants, the second highest number of individual birds seen, and the third highest number of species recorded.

In addition to the local census, Block Island friends, far-and-wide, participated in this socially distanced bird count by also going afield to count birds. Nine participants, in six locations (from Delaware to Massachusetts to England) observed 58 species. (To see the full listing of observations from both Block Island and afar, go to Natureblockisland.org).

Sometimes, what is not seen is just as interesting as what is. Only one each of myrtle warbler and downy woodpecker seems quite low. Black scoter which are often seen in large rafts off the island’s shoreline, along with northern gannet (which has had a strong presence this early winter) were not reported. Of course, the weather can influence what is seen – or not.

On the day following the CBC, December 27, the weather was much improved with much lower winds, more sun and slightly moderated temperatures; and on this day Barbara Hall saw a northern mockingbird in her yard, and Peter Wood had a fleeting glimpse of a snowy owl in his copper beech. You just never know what you might see tomorrow…

2020 Community Bird Census (Block Island List)

Snow goose ...................................... 1
Canada goose ............................. 198+
Mute swan........................................ 3
American wigeon............................26
American black duck ..................... 16
Mallard......................................... 117
Domestic Mallard/Peking ......... 20+/-
Northern shoveler ......................... 2
Ring-necked duck .......................... 23
Common eider................................ 70
White-winged scoter...................... 11
Long-tailed duck ............................ 1
Bufflehead.....................................118
Common goldeneye ......................... 3
Hooded merganser ......................... 22
Red-breasted merganser. ................ 35
Ruddy duck ................................. 20+
Ring-necked Pheasant...................... 2
Feral turkey ...................................... 5
Red-throated loon............................. 1
Common loon................................. 10
Loon species..................................... 3
Cormorant species...........................12
Double-crested cormorant................ 1
Great cormorant ............................. 33
American bittern .............................. 1
Great blue heron............................... 5
Great egret........................................ 1
Northern harrier ............................. 10
Red-tailed hawk ............................... 1
Hawk species ................................... 3
Black-bellied plover..........................3
Sanderling .................................... 101
Dunlin .............................................. 9
Laughing gull................................... 4
Ring-billed gull.............................. 33
Herring gull............................... 344+
Gr. BB gull................................... 281
Gull species.................................... 41
Rock dove ...................................... 29
Mourning dove............................... 44
Barn owl........................................... 2
Belted kingfisher.............................. 2
Red-bellied woodpecker .................. 2
Downy woodpecker ......................... 1
Northern flicker................................ 1
American kestrel .............................. 1
Blue jay .......................................... 11
American crow............................ 85+
Fish crow.......................................... 9
Crow species.................................. 18
Black-capped chickadee................. 24
Red-breasted nuthatch...................... 1
White-breasted nuthatch .................. 2
Carolina wren................................. 19
American robin .............................. 24
European Starling...................... 537+
Yellow-rumped warbler ................... 1
Song sparrow ..................................24
White-throated sparrow ................. 13
Northern cardinal ........................... 31
Red-winged blackbird.................... 12
Common grackle.............................. 7
Brown-headed cowbird.................... 1
House finch .................................... 18
Red crossbill ................................... 7
American goldfinch.......................... 3
House Sparrow............................... 44

Total Species:................................. 63
Individuals: ................................ 2486
Note: New additions in bold

 

Weather: 29 - 32 F Sunny, and 25+/- mph wind from southwest (Gusts to 35 in the morning). Cold & windy.

Participants: 34 – Barbara Hall and Gloria Hall Daubert, Dorrie Napoleone, Susan Matheke and Will Feuer, Charon and Cindy Littlefield, Heather Hatfield, Maureen, Aria and Avery Quackenbush and Fred Betts, Scott, Clair and Emma Comings, Susan, Margaret and Mae Stover and Matt Douglas, Heather Sniffen, Nancy Greenaway, Corrie Heinz, Pam Gasner (with informants: J. Littlefield, Julia G. and Haley Conant), Chris Blane, Austin Morin, Shannon Cotter, Steve and Maura Smith, Kerri Gaffett and Sam Spier, and Kim Gaffett.