It’s finally over, and what a white-knuckle ride it’s been. While I could easily be talking about 2020, I actually mean that the last of the Christmas Bird Counts are finally in the books. That makes this a bittersweet time for some birders. In my case, there are some very warm, absurdly thick socks mostly reserved for these 12-hour blitzes that I am not likely to need again until next year’s counts. So I get a bit misty as I lay them in the bottom of the drawer - the every-day Smartwools should suffice for normal, non-Christmas Count winter birding, henceforth.
I could, of course, go on and on about my socks, but we should probably discuss birds seen on the last of the counts, including Truro, the one I oversee. The Truro count circle does not boast the same land area or habitat diversity of the more established Cape counts, and typically produces many fewer species. But this year, this little count that could got within five species of the mighty Cape Cod count. We saw a record 120 species on count day, December 30th, within a circle spanning from Marconi Beach to the Provincetown line.
For many of us, the days starts cold and early with owling. The pre-dawn wind forecast was just enough to make you consider sleeping in. But as usual, it was less windy than expected, and we found some responsive, even chatty owls, mostly Northern Saw-whet Owls. The various owling teams combined for at least 20 of these mysterious toy-sized owls that seem to love Wellfleet and Truro so much, and we heard all of their usual vocalizations, including some eerie whines, adorable barks, and their signature monotonic tooting.
The daytime highlights included a very unseasonable Indigo Bunting feeding with sparrows along a road in Wellfleet. This male was mostly brown, but showing hints of his eventual spring glory in the form of a few intense blue patches. I suspect it’s the only Indigo Bunting on any Christmas Count north of Georgia this year. Another late species for these parts was represented by the small flock of Tree Swallows trying to make a go of it in North Truro this winter – four were seen on count day. Unlike other swallows, they can make do with small fruits, like bayberries, but I can’t imagine they are feeling good about this travel decision, while all their friends and relatives are chowing on bugs and catching rays in Florida.
While this count is typically short on freshwater ducks, Truro’s first ever record of a Eurasian Green-winged Teal was found in one of those little neighborhood ponds no one ever looks at except on a Christmas Bird Count. These ducks differ from our local teal in having a horizontal racing stripe along the side, plus their more sophisticated continental accent.
Like with other counts this year, one of the main highlights was all the species of winter finch not found every year, with sightings of scads of siskins, crossbills, redpolls, and Evening Grosbeaks rewarding birders for their efforts. It may be two, three or more years until we see most of these species again, so you need to enjoy them while you can. Best among the finch finds was the ghostly Hoary Redpoll hiding in a big flock of Common Redpolls in Wellfleet. Like the Yeti, this frosty finch of the far north is hard to find and even harder to prove – good photos are typically required to convince fellow birders you saw one, and even then some taxonomists don’t believe they exist except as a subspecies of redpoll.
There was another count to report on, but I haven’t heard much yet about the results of Saturday’s Martha’s Vineyard count. If I do, you’ll hear about it here next week, along with any new developments regarding my socks…