Monday, January 11, 2016

Time to think of the birds

By Beth Sullivan
We have turned the pages on the calendar, or more precisely changed calendars completely! For many people the New Year brings a clean slate, for exercise, diets or other good intentions. For people who really pay attention to birds, it is a fresh spreadsheet…or list book…to begin recording the year’s species.
A Cooper's Hawk waits at a feeder to catch other birds. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Many of us participate in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count which took place this year on Jan.2 for New London County. Find out more here. Other counts took place on other days around the same time. As dedicated birders spread out to count species and also individuals, the compiled data gives scientists a better overview, over a long period of time, of trends in populations. These trends can be compared to changes in climate, species movements and spread, and to assist in identifying species that could be in trouble. The final species number is not compiled yet, but this year there were 113 species of birds counted. The record high species count is about 120. This year, with record warmth, has allowed water to stay open, so ducks and geese can spread out and be harder to count. Northern birds may not all have arrived on wintering grounds here, and our birds of summer may have dallied here longer. The species and counts are always interesting to try and figure out. 
A Red Shouldered Hawk will look for small mammals under a feeder. Photograph by Keith Tomlinson.

Hooded Mergansers are happy when protected coves have open water.

Project Feeder Watch

For a longer term citizen science effort, there is the Project Feeder Watch. In general it has been on going since November and will continue until the end of March. This watch does not involve getting out in the cold and beating up bushes. It is intended to be conducted from the comfort of your home, looking out a window and watching your bird feeders. The birds that frequent our bird feeding stations are often familiar friends: Chickadees, Titmice, Sparrows and Finches. The fun comes when someone unusual shows up, or an entire flock of a species drops in, like Pine Siskins or Evening Grosbeaks as they make their rounds like nomads, through the winter. Go to Project Feeder Watch here.  The site has details, instructions and data. You can begin the count even now and sign up for next year while you are at it. Keep your slippers on, grab a bird book, binoculars are helpful, and a mug of hot chocolate makes for a perfect birding event. Have a camera nearby if possible, to be prepared for an unusual visitor. I had a Tennessee Warbler show up under my feeder in early December. Very late, but considering the December temperatures, he was fine. He was picking on suet droppings. The Watch List did not want to accept my sighting and they wanted photo documentation to prove it. Next time I will have the camera!
Chickadees are a common visitor to our feeders all year.

Bald Eagle count

On Jan 8, birders spread out around New London County, and around the State, and nationally, to count Bald Eagles. Learn more here. The local population has been increasing with several successful nests in our area. During this time of year, Eagles from the North should be down along the coast where there is more open water. Our local population swells. The mouth of the CT River is considered the best place to observe Bald Eagles. January is the time when they actually begin nesting. If you know of an Eagle nest site, keep your eyes on it because they return to the same nest, adding and rebuilding and will be on eggs when the snow flies.
Bald Eagles winter along the coast.

If that isn’t enough for you, there will be the Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Again, it is a citizen science effort that collects the raw data which is appreciated by the ornithologists who are tracking trends. Learn more here.
Snow will not bother a Cardinal, while we watch from inside.

So, get to your computer, check out the sites that offer the instructions, sign yourself up, and join the effort. At the very least, start paying attention to the bird life outside your window. It will draw you in. The snow WILL fly soon and it is nice to have an outdoor-based activity that can be accomplished from the comfort of inside.
When the snow gets deep, you can count on some larger feeder visitors. Photograph by Kathleen Page.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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