For the fourth consecutive year, my mother, sister, and I participated in the Raritan Estuary Christmas Bird Count. The winter solstice is technically the darkest day of the year. However, the day of the Raritan Estuary CBC, usually the last Sunday of the year, seems to best the solstice for dreariness. Today was no different, with the sky blanketed by increasingly thick clouds from morning till night, and then a rainstorm moving in after dark.
As usual, we began the count at the west end of our sector in Johnson Park. This is a good starting point, since it gives us a chance to count a large Canada goose flock before it disperses for the day. This section of the river tends to be good for waterfowl, including common goldeneye, and many hawks use nearby the snags for early morning hunting. The park's small zoo is usually a popular place with songbirds, especially the house sparrows that like to pilfer the food left out for the caged animals. This morning, the house sparrows were joined by a merlin, which caught and ate one. Close by the zoo, we each saw a brilliantly-colored male golden-crowned kinglet. For the rest of the morning we worked our way eastward through the park. The sightings were mostly mundance - lots of dark-eyed juncos, a smattering of woodpeckers, and the typical winter mixed songbird flocks.
After lunch, we birded the other part of our sector, Donaldson Park and some adjacent areas. There were surprisingly few Canada geese and gulls (of any sort) today. Usually we find at least a few hundred of each. There was a great cormorant perched on a marker in the river; this is about as far inland as that species can be found. I had a few American tree sparrows at the east end of the park, as well as a trio of black vultures and a flyby harrier. The last new species for the afternoon was a peregrine falcon, seen only by Belinda.
We closed out the day with an owling trip after dark. I had hoped that we could find great horned owls, since we have encountered them before on this route, and perhaps eastern screech owls. Unfortunately none responded to the playback calls. The steady cold drizzle probably had something to do with that. After a fourth unsuccessful stop, we packed it in for the night.
Here is a table with the full results from our sector. Canada geese account for almost half the total birds!
|American Black Duck||4|
|Great Blue Heron||6|
|Great Black-backed Gull||24|
|American Tree Sparrow||3|