Last Sunday was the Newburyport Christmas Bird Count. Teams of birders scoured the woods, fields, backyards, thickets, marshes, rivers and ocean from Ipswich to Salisbury counting every bird that they encountered. The weather was rather pleasant with sunny skies and temperatures ranging from the high 20s to the low 40s.
The early morning was calm, making for good owling conditions, but the wind picked up during the day, gusting as high as 25 mph. Ponds and salt pans were partially frozen, but the rivers were wide open.
The good weather helped contribute to finding 119 species, just two below the all-time highest number found. Nine of those species reached a record high count of individuals. Gadwall was the only duck to see its highest number in the history of the count. Sanderlings were particularly numerous with over 500 counted, dwarfing the previous high count of 147 in 2009. Red-bellied woodpeckers continue to increase in the area and a record number of white-winged crossbills was not a surprise in such a good finch winter as we are having.
Four evening grosbeaks were found in Willowdale State Forest — a nice find, though a far cry from the large numbers of these birds that we would see in winters past. A record number of 815 of these grosbeaks was counted back in 1969!
Other noteworthy birds include the two western grebes that have been present for at least a month off the coast of Plum Island. Only single western grebes have been observed twice before in the history of the Count. A hoary redpoll was found among a flock of eight common redpolls at Lot 7 on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. A couple of ravens and a towhee were also seen during the Count.
Despite the good owling conditions, low numbers of screech, great-horned and barred owls were reported. The long-eared owl at Salisbury that I talked about last week was not found on Sunday; however, Tom Wetmore did see one near Stage Island Pool on Plum Island early in the morning. No snowy or short-eared owls were discovered.