Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Clinton Christmas Bird Count, Sunday, 12/14/08, the first of four in the 2008-2009 CBC season

The best two Christmas Bird Count counters one could ever have the good fortune to spend the day with are shown in the photograph above - Harold Eyster, age 15 and his sister, Artemis, age 12. Quick eyes, great identification skills and enthusiasm are what they brought to this CBC for me and our other great counter, Don Chalfant. I've birded with Harold and Artemis many times, but this was our first CBC together.

It was not a great count day weather wise. Wind, spitting rain and icy roads pestered us for most of the day. But we got the job done well.

Toward the end of the day, when we had good numbers of American Crows, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, American Tree Sparrows amongst others already tallied, we began to search our list for birds we should have seen but up until that moment had not. One of these was American Kestrel. We were driving along when Artemis called out a single bird perched on a distant wire. Single bird on a wire is not the typical pattern for Mourning Doves or European Starlings this time of year. As we had already driven past the bird, we had a brief debate about whether to back up (on an icy road) to make the identification. Everyone responded favorably to checking the bird and I put the car in reverse. The bird was still on the wire - it was a Mourning Dove. A brief discussion followed about the importance of checking all suspect birds, especially when trying to fill in the blanks for species still absent from the count.

We drove on a bit further, may have even made a stop or two in between to count mixed feeding flocks, when Artemis called out again, "hovering bird in the field to the right." There was no mistake about this ID. A kestrel was working the field, skillfully performing its fantastic hovering maneuvers. Artemis has spotted this bird from the back seat looking through a dirty, tinted window. We added our only kestrel of the day to the tally sheet.

It's difficult to tell from the above photograph, but our last species added and last birds counted for the day, was this field of Snow Buntings. A very active flock, they would lap the field a few times and then land briefly for some pecking in the snow and mud. For as long as we watched, they repeated this activity so typical of Snow Buntings. Sometimes they landed very close to the car and Harold and Artemis were able to do some quick sketching. The extra benefit is that Snow Bunting was a life bird for Artemis.

I include the photo above, Snow Bunting on a sandy beach, taken by Harold [Eyster as above] in October during our Whitefish Point (Chippewa County, upper peninsula of Michigan) field trip, so you can see how beautiful Snow Buntings are.  The bunting above was a life bird for Harold and as he was photographing it nearly walked over his shoes.  

The count day finally over, our last stop was at Big Boy's on M-52 in Chelsea to feed some hungry young birders, check photos and complete our tally sheet. Forty species were found and over 1800 individual birds were counted this day. The best birds [always an arguable point] were probably eleven Turkey Vultures, two Rough-legged Hawks, one American Kestrel, two Screech Owls, one daytime Great Horned Owl, one Hermit Thrush and four Pine Siskens. As is true with any CBC count, we undoubtedly missed a couple of species, but anyone familiar with Michigan CBCs would agree that we had a pretty great day.

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