Christmas Bird Counts

2013 Christmas Bird Counts

These annual counts provide a great excuse to get out with friends and freeze. This year was gentler, with much warmer temps and less wind than usual. But the warmer weather seemed to negatively affect the bird numbers and species diversity. I am guessing, but some of my theories are: less need for the birds to form foraging flocks and less elevational migratory movement, both behaviors due to a wider abundance of food and water sources. Regardless, I had a great time on two counts…the New River and the Mount Rogers. On Saturday the 21st, Jesse Pope and I ran the roads down along the river at Cox’s Chapel Low Water Bridge. This is Jesse’s old stomping grounds, so every bend in the road (of which there were plenty) came with a memory and story shared. We counted 39 species, with high numbers of crows and Canada geese as was expected. Among the ‘good’ finds were several white-crowned sparrows, one chipping sparrow, one yellow-bellied sapsucker, and two bald eagles seen by Aaron Floyd who was fishing inside our circle.

Yesterday, Dec. 28th, Allen Boynton’s Mount Rogers CBC crew met at the Log House in Volney for food, coffee and instructions. Notice it's still dark outside.

Dispersing from there, Rick Cavey, Jim Minick, and I headed north and west, beginning our count along Homestead Road.

Here we found our only winter wren.

In spite of the early morning cold, we dug up several species, including an unidentified buteo.

It was too distant for the kind of look any of us was confident enough to be certain of, but it was exciting to see a raptor so early in the day.

Our largest single species count…estimated at 160…was a flock of horned larks, seen in the same place as last year.

These birds are typically found in corn stubbled fields.

We tried to turn one of the larks into an American pipet, alas, to no avail.

At the Buller Fish Hatchery Jim noticed that one of the new wood duck boxes was ‘plugged up’ by something.

That something turned out to be our best bird of the day, a red-morph screech owl.

While we were sneaking up on the box to photo-document our find a great blue heron rose up from the creek and flew upstream.

Towards the end of our day, at the Fairwood Cemetery, we all heard an odd mixture of high and low screeches, which turned out to be a red-tail being properly harassed by a few crazy crows.

Moments like these are held for a long time, reminding us that stomping around in the outdoors any time of year holds its own rewards.

Scott Jackson-Ricketts