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A wrap-up of the Christmas Bird counts

Barred Owl
Fyn Kynd
Barred Owl

The last of the local Christmas Bird Counts have come and gone, and with the change of calendars, birders are now onto chasing the various rare birds the counts turned up — the new year means a clean slate for those year listers out there. But before you rush out there to make good on your resolution to go birding more, let’s recap the highlights from the recent counts.

The Nantucket and Vineyard counts were both held on New Year’s Day, so presumably those birders had to turn off Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve before the ball dropped and get some sleep. The Vineyard Count used mostly on-island talent to see a respectable 121 species on count day. Highlights included late lingering birds like an American Oystercatcher and a Great Egret, plus a weirdly large flock of 52 Turkey Vultures — even one is rare in winter, so somethings got to be dead in that neighborhood.

Thanks to the welcoming and accommodating community of local birders, the Nantucket Count has become more than just a single day count — it’s now a multi-day birding event that draws people from at least as far as Connecticut. Many stay from Friday through Monday, birding the whole time. In fact, this count has developed enough gravitas that it’s become a birder black hole, sucking in much needed birding talent for several days of the vital count period. I say this with a hint of bitterness, as I lost several good birders on my Truro count back on the 30th because they were already heading to Nantucket two days before the actual count. But this method works for them as the scouts turn up all kinds of things ahead of the count, which ended up at 128 species.

But the now undisputed king of the counts is the Mid-Cape, the one that covers from Sandwich to Dennis. The rich mix of bay, sound, saltmarsh, productive duck ponds, farms, and dense, fruit-filled neighborhood thickets, plus a bunch of really good birders, produces an astounding bird list for winter. This year the species total for the Mid-Cape, held back on the 27th, will fall somewhere in the mid-140s, outpacing other local counts by almost 20 species. Some of the better sightings were a Western Tanager in West Barnstable, a Painted Bunting in Sandwich, and a flock of Long-billed Dowitchers in Centerville. Hyannisport held its own with a late Semipalmated Plover, a rare marsh bird called a Sora, and two Black-headed Gulls, a European species.

My Truro count doesn’t have the land area or habitat diversity of the others, but we bird nonetheless hard. We had great weather back on the 30th, but an anemic species total — 112, which is 14 below last year. My two highlights didn’t even involve birds, but instead two different rare mammals. One was the North Atlantic right whale my team watched off an ocean beach in Truro — multiple other teams saw them on the bay side as well. The other rare mammal may have been my biggest highlight — it was six-year-old human birder Noah, grandson of one of our regulars. Against all odds, this youngster birded with us adults from 7 a.m. until dark, brushing aside all offers from grandmother to give up and go home. I wish I knew about Christmas Bird Counts back when I was six and just getting started, but I’m not sure I could have lasted a whole day.

As for you, you’ve now got a whole year to work on your birding stamina ahead of next year’s counts. I can recommend several exercises, including weighted binocular lifts, various neck stretches, advanced pointing and yelling, and the 500-yard spotting scope race over soft sand, which really punishes the knees. I assume these will dovetail nicely, if you will, with your resolution to start working out more, so you can really kill two birds with one stone. Probably could have found a better metaphor, but you get the idea.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.