For the second year in a row, I joined a team of birders on a trip to the Eastern Neck NWR for a Christmas Bird Count. The Lower Kent County CBC is a difficult one for DC birders, so relatively few make the trip. Participation is a full day commitment: leaving town around 5 am and returning after 7 pm. (The early start is a real challenge for night-owls like me.) This count also comes a day after the Washington CBC, in which most local birders participate. Yet Eastern Neck is worth the two-hour trip for its diversity of habitats and avifauna.
Yesterday our team started out on the bridge at the north end of the refuge and worked our way south. On the way we counted 81 bird species and 10,601 individual birds in the island's wetlands, meadows, agricultural fields, and pine forests. The action was a little slow at first, but bird activity really started to pick up around 9 am, once the sun had had time to warm the fields. Many sparrow species were represented. White-throated and song sparrows were the dominant ones, of course, but they included fox and American tree sparrows, both uncommon in this area. Chipping, field, savannah, and swamp sparrows also sent representatives, as did towhees and juncos. It became so warm that even the hermit thrushes started singing! A red-headed woodpecker rounded out a seven-woodpecker day.
The big surprise was the lack of waterbirds. Usually the bay waters around Eastern Neck teem with migrant waterfowl. Normally swans number in the thousands; yesterday we only recorded a little over 500. Normally there are great flocks of canvasbacks; this year only 15 were present. Most other waterfowl species were similarly underrepresented. I hope that waterfowl are simply slower to migrate this year, and that their absence does not signal deepening problems with the Chesapeake Bay's underwater ecosystem.
Near the end of the day, a couple of us had a long look at a great horned owl flying through an open grove of loblolly pines. Shortly after, another owl flushed and disappeared behind the tree line. It really turned out to be a great weekend for seeing owls.
|American Black Duck||300|
|Scaup, sp.||1500 (includes both Greater and Lesser)|
|Great Blue Heron||11|
|Great Black-backed Gull||65|
|Great Horned Owl||6|
|American Tree Sparrow||1|