Monday, December 18, 2006

A Weekend for Owls

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.

Canada Goose3800
Cackling Goose2
Mute Swan8
Tundra Swan530
American Wigeon1
American Black Duck300
Northern Pintail23
Scaup, sp.1500 (includes both Greater and Lesser)
Common Goldeneye25
Hooded Merganser6
Common Merganser20
Red-breasted Merganser21
Ruddy Duck312
Red-throated Loon1
Common Loon5
Pied-billed Grebe1
Double-crested Cormorant18
Great Blue Heron11
Black Vulture7
Turkey Vulture10
Bald Eagle6
Northern Harrier2
Sharp-shinned Hawk2
Red-shouldered Hawk1
Red-tailed Hawk4
Virginia Rail5
American Woodcock2
Ring-billed Gull50
Herring Gull350
Great Black-backed Gull65
Mourning Dove50
Eastern Screech-Owl1
Great Horned Owl6
Belted Kingfisher4
Red-headed Woodpecker1
Red-bellied Woodpecker35
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker1
Downy Woodpecker15
Hairy Woodpecker6
Northern Flicker10
Pileated Woodpecker3
Blue Jay100
American Crow7
Horned Lark15
Carolina Chickadee40
Tufted Titmouse14
White-breasted Nuthatch3
Brown-headed Nuthatch1
Carolina Wren35
Golden-crowned Kinglet1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet10
Eastern Bluebird20
Hermit Thrush5
American Robin97
Gray Catbird1
Northern Mockingbird15
Brown Thrasher1
European Starling300
Cedar Waxwing25
Yellow-rumped Warbler9
Eastern Towhee12
American Tree Sparrow1
Chipping Sparrow7
Field Sparrow15
Savannah Sparrow8
Fox Sparrow6
Song Sparrow240
Swamp Sparrow50
White-throated Sparrow450
Dark-eyed Junco40
Northern Cardinal65
Red-winged Blackbird780
Common Grackle335
Brown-headed Cowbird1
House Finch14
American Goldfinch15
Total Species81
Total Individuals10,601