Snowflakes 0: American Crows 331, and counting

Wed, 01/04/2012 - 3:11pm

The weather proved too warm for snowflakes, flurries or feathered. Although a hearty group looked high and low for snow buntings (or Snowflakes) and snowbirds (or slate-colored juncos) none were seen as we swirled and drifted around Block Island during the eleventh annual OVF Community Bird Census.

In fact, the primary question amongst the participants was, "Where are all the birds?" There was a general agreement that the local bird feeders and ambient environment has been largely devoid of bird sights and sounds. Sparrows, winter robins and the familiar pheasant "cluck-caw" — often heard when afield in winter — seemed to be markedly absent.

Fifteen of us took to the field to scout for birds on Monday, December 26, as many birders, including Elizabeth Dickens and island students, have done before us. Together we searched the wind-blown surface of Sachem Pond (ruddy ducks), traversed the sheltered edge of Clay Head pond and swamp (black ducks), and strolled the warm and sun-lit beach at Jerry’s Point (white-winged scoters). One common finding: In all views to the sea throughout the day, common eiders were abundant.

Smaller assemblages of the group divided and overlapped to scan the Hog Pen and Trims Pond (belted kingfishers), Dories Cove and environs (mourning doves), Cooneymus Swamp (gadwalls), Fresh Pond and Seneca Swamp (American coot and ring-necked ducks), Old Harbor Point (seals and N. harrier), Old Mill Road area (myrtle warblers), Old Harbor and Pebbly beaches (double-crested cormorants and common goldeneye), Payne Farm and Fresh Swamp fields (101 crows), the Sands Pond/Payne Road/Murray Nature Sanctuary area (bufflehead, pheasant, and Coopers hawk), Beacon Hill (Canada geese), Middle Pond (Gr.-blue heron), Cormorant Cove and Andy’s Way (black-bellied plovers and sanderling) and various bird feeders (downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, house sparrows, American goldfinch). A Pilot Hill yard had "tea-kettling" Carolina wrens pished (or coaxed) out, and everyone saw American crows.

In spite of obvious misses (where were the hermit thrushes and juncos?) and scarcities (only six song sparrows and seven robins), the day did provide views of four new species for the 11-year list. One great egret and one greater yellowlegs were seen in the back of Harbor Pond. These shore birds are common and abundant in summer, but would be more comfortable this time of year in the Southeastern U.S. and into South America. A third addition is the surf scoter, probably the species most expected in and about the island’s waters. Actually, the surprise is that surf scoters have not been counted before this year. Finally, there are the semi-wild turkeys haunting the southwest side of the island. It will be interesting to watch over the next few years to see if this flock will naturalize to the island habitat as ring-necked pheasants have over the decades, or if they will prove to be short-lived introductions such as the Bobwhite (introduced in the 1960s), an earlier flock of wild turkeys (introduced in the late 1960s/70s), or Guinea fowl (1990s).

Another highlight of this year’s Community Bird Census is that we had a larger number of participants (see photo) than in any previous year. And, as is always the case, a good time was had by all!


2011 Community Bird Census

Species Totals

(new species are listed in bold)

Common Loon – 3

Pied-billed grebe – 1

Double-cr. Cormorant – 70

Great-blue heron – 4

Great egret – 1

Canada Goose – 60

Mallard –(+24 at Old Twn. Rd.) - 76

American Black Duck – 12

Gadwall – 5

American Wigeon – 2

Ring-necked duck – 60

Common Goldeneye – 11

Bufflehead – 49

C. Eider – 58

White-winged Scoter – 40

Surf Scoter – 1

Black Scoter – 4

Ruddy duck – 24

Hooded Merganser – 28

Red-breasted Merg. – 93

Coopers Hawk – 3

Northern Harrier – 2

Merlin – 1

Pheasant – 3

Semi-Wild Turkey* - 11

American coot - 15

Black-bellied plover – 4

Gr. Yellowlegs – 1

Sanderling – 5

Gr. B-b Gull – 49+

Herring gull – 137++

Ring-billed Gull – 2

Mourning Dove – 43

Belted Kingfisher – 3

N. Flicker – 3

Red-bellied Woodpecker–3

Downy Woodpecker – 1

Blue Jay – 8

American Crow – 331++

B-c chickadee – 32

Carolina Wren – 24

N. Mockingbird – 3

Gray catbird – 1

American robin – 7

E. Starling – 206

Myrtle Warbler – 25

House Sparrow – 43

N. Cardinal – 11

House finch – 10

A. Goldfinch – 8

Snowbird a.k.a. Junco – 0

White-throated sparrow–16

Song Sparrow – 6

Snowflake a.k.a. Snow Bunting – 0

Total Species               52

Individuals            1619

Participants included: Maggie Komosinski, Mary Andruszkiewicz, Jon Peterson, Susan, Jen and Kate Fillin-Yeh, Molly and Jake Price, Nancy Greenaway, Chris, Pam and Liz Scranton, Susan Matheke, Bruce Montgomery.


Weather: Temperature was 43 F. and mostly sunny. Wind was brisk at 20 to 25 mph from the northwest, making it chilly when the sun was blocked by clouds.