Monday, January 24, 2011

A Cold C&O Canal Count

This weekend I went down to Washington so that I could participate in this year's C&O Canal Count. (My apologies for the lack of posts this weekend. I forget to schedule them before I left.) Like last year, I stayed with my friend Jed and traveled with him to cover some miles around Little Orleans in Allegany County. This year we helped Paul with his section, miles 141-143.

Allegany County has more northerly bird life than most of Maryland. For example, while most of Maryland is the land of Carolina Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees predominate in Allegany. Birds that are common on the coastal plain, like Fish Crows, are scarce, but mountain-loving Common Ravens are present. Uncommon eastern birds like Ruffed Grouse and Golden Eagle are present but hard to find. This means that a bird count covering the area will probably produce fewer species but more interesting ones, and possibly even something unusual.

No such rarities presented themselves during Saturday's count. The Potomac River was frozen for pretty much the entire three-mile stretch, so waterbirds were scarce. There was only a single flock of Canada Geese. Only one raptor (a Red-tailed Hawk) made an appearance, and even sparrows were hard to find. Instead we had a steady stream of chickadees and titmice, with occasional nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Carolina Wrens. The crunchy snow on the towpath did not help, as the sound of our footsteps made it difficult to listen for bird sounds. Probably our best birds on the count were a flock of Eastern Bluebirds in mile 143. Their bright blue backs were a pleasant relief from all the brown and gray.

Of course, as soon as we finished our section and left the park boundaries, we encountered a mixed species flock that included Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Hermit Thrush, neither of which we recorded for the count.