Twenty-one volunteers participated in the 55th annual Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 30.
The National Audubon Society, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sponsors Christmas bird counts annually throughout the Americas. Each count consists of a tally of all birds seen within a 15-mile-diameter circle on one day that falls within a 15-day period between late December and early January. Audubon Christmas counts have been taking place for 119 years and provide valuable information on the range expansion or narrowing of wintering bird populations.
The center for the Oak Orchard count is the point at which the Genesee-Orleans County line crosses Route 63. The 15-mile diameter circle includes Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda state Wildlife Management areas, the Tonawanda reservation, the townships of Alabama and Shelby, the villages of Indian Falls, Medina and Wolcottsville, and portions of Middleport and Oakfield.
According to local count compiler Celeste Morien, count hours were unusually warm and mild, with a low temperature of 44F and a high of 55F, both above the average daily temperature for Dec. 30. In portions of the count circle, there was occasional light rain in the morning and afternoon. Winds were SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Minimum snow depth was 2 inches and maximum snow depth due to the previous week’s blizzard was 48 inches.
Speaking of snow, the original count date, Dec. 28, was changed due to the depth of snow along roadsides from the Dec. 24-Dec. 26 blizzard. Birds suffered from weather conditions during the blizzard, as did the entire region.
Observers were afield in 18 parties from 4:30 a.m. until 5:50 p.m., and in 83.75 total hours covered 31 miles on foot and 563 miles by car. One observer counted birds at home feeders for four hours. Participants also clocked 5.75 nocturnal hours and 40 miles searching for owls. In total, these observers tallied 63 species.
11,307 individual birds were counted, several thousand less than last year, Morien said. Small numbers of waterfowl gathered in open water, mainly at Glenwood Lake in Medina and on Tonawanda and Oak Orchard creeks. Wintering numbers were about average for most perching birds.
No irruptive species (especially finches that visit in winter from the boreal forest when cone crops there are low) were noted this year, except for red-breasted nuthatches.
There were two high counts for these species: sandhill Crane, 10, and common raven, 5. Both have been expanding their ranges in Western New York.
There was one “new to the count” subspecies this year: a dark-eyed junco / Oregon type.
Birds seen in the three days before or after the count, including said junco, were gadwall, common goldeneye, ring-necked duck and rusty blackbird.
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Here are the results of the Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count by type.
SEEN: Tundra swan, 12; cackling goose, 3; Canada goose, 2,223; American black duck, 42; mallard, 181; ring-necked duck, seen during count week / not on count day; common goldeneye, seen during count week / not on count day; hooded merganser, 1; common merganser, 1; wild turkey, 1; great blue heron, 2; bald eagle, 9; northern harrier, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 5; red-tailed hawk, 25; rough-legged hawk, 1; American kestrel, 3; merlin, 1; sandhill crane, 10; ring-billed gull, 65; herring gull, 2; rock pigeon (feral pigeon), 248; mourning dove, 113; eastern screech-owl, 8; belted kingfisher, 2; red-bellied woodpecker, 46; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 2; downy woodpecker, 63; hairy woodpecker, 30; northern flicker, 26; pileated woodpecker, 9; blue jay, 228; American crow, 219; common raven, 5; horned lark, 64; black-capped chickadee, 170; tufted titmouse, 21; red-breasted nuthatch, 8; white-breasted nuthatch, 31; brown creeper, 4; Carolina wren, 3; golden-crowned kinglet, 3; eastern bluebird, 40; American robin, 148; northern mockingbird, 1; European starling, 5,799; cedar waxwing, 3; American tree sparrow, 115; song sparrow, 8; swamp sparrow, 1; white-throated sparrow, 29; white-crowned sparrow, 1; dark-eyed junco, 219; dark-eyed junco / Oregon type, seen during count week / not on count day; snow bunting, 132; northern cardinal, 203; red-winged blackbird, 18; rusty blackbird, seen during count week / not on count day; common grackle, 1; brown-headed cowbird, 32; house finch, 48; American goldfinch, 143; house sparrow, 472.
NOT SEEN: Mute swan, trumpeter swan, greater white-fronted goose, snow goose, Ross’s goose, cackling goose, wood duck, gadwall, American wigeon, American black duck x mallard, domestic mallard x mallard, northern shoveler, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, canvasback, redhead, greater scaup, lesser scaup, bufflehead, ring-necked pheasant, ruffed grouse, common loon, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, American bittern, great egret, black-crowned night heron; sharp-shinned haw; northern goshawk, red-shouldered hawk, peregrine falcon, Virginia rail, sora, American coot, Wilson’s snipe, great black-backed gull, Bonaparte’s gull, great-horned owl, snowy owl, barred owl, long-eared owl, short-eared owl, northern saw-whet owl, red-headed woodpecker, eastern phoebe, northern shrike, winter wren, marsh wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, gray catbird, American pipit, yellow-rumped warbler, common yellowthroat, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, Savannah sparrow, Lapland longspur, eastern meadowlark, yellow-headed blackbird, brewer’s blackbird, pine grosbeak, purple finch, white-winged crossbill, common redpoll, pine siskin, evening grosbeak.