Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas bird counts: yesterday the Rockwood CBC

Yesterday I finished three of the four annual Christmas bird counts I participate in. I always do the early wake-up for owling - for me, only Eastern Screech and Great Horned are located. I have never been able to contribute the more uncommon species like Saw-whet, Long-eared or Short-eared - despite looking each year and each count. I counted my annual territory of the Rockwood CBC yesterday. However, it was the first morning when I remained in bed and guiltily skipped the owling.

All of the counts I participate in are driving counts - trolling for birds, large and small, while driving slowly along a [usually] rural road. While I understand the need for driving while birding - it's not my favorite way to find birds. At least when I am walking, I'm also getting some exercise, even when there are no birds to count.

The Rockwood count is my favorite of all of the counts I do. Despite being driver, sighter and recorder - the habitat I cover seems to offer the greatest number of possibilities. There are areas to get out of the car and do some brief walking. The rest is as I describe above. The good thing is that most of the roads are lightly travelled and it is easy to pull over to allow the scant traffic to pass. Needless to say, it is easy to miss birds when counting this way.

Yesterday, was probably the quietest Rockwood CBC I have ever participated in. I found only 32 species overall and it took me until after 12 noon to find my one and only Red-tailed Hawk. This is the lowest species count, by far, that I have ever had for this count.

(Click on each photo for a larger image.)

Bald Eagle is a bird I have only seen on one other occasion for the Rockwood count, even though other areas within the count circle often have many. I watched this adult Bald Eagle fly into an area with a frozen farm pond and land in a tree directly opposite my car.

It is not visible in the first photo, but when the bird is looking to the left it seems to have a large smudge dirtying its beautiful white feathers. Alternatively, this may be the wind blowing the feathers aside to reveal downy underfeathers or, more likely, just creating a shadow effect. There was certainly a moderate wind blowing yesterday.

Contrast finding only one Red-tailed Hawk, a common winter raptor in Michigan, with finding eleven American Kestrels. I believe that eleven is the highest number of kestrel that I have ever seen for this count. Michigan winters are quite severe and most kestrels will migrate south. In wintertime south Texas, for example, there is a kestrel perched on a utility wire every few hundred feet along almost any road. It appears that this winter, many have decided to stick it out and brave the elements until spring.

Here is another photo of the same bird with its head turned slightly more. This was the only kestrel that remained close enouth to allow a photo with my distance challenged camera. It's hard for me to commit to naming a favorite bird, but American Kestrel is certainly one of my favorites - completely charming and beautiful.

Of the three Christmas counts I have completed thus far, the above birds are the only ones I have been able to photograph. One more to go, the Detroit River Count on New Year's Day, and that will complete the 2009 CBC season for me.