Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sandy Hook Christmas Count Results

Today was the Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count, one of my favorite birding days of the year. This is the 3rd year that I've participated in the count. As usual, I covered the northern portion of Sandy Hook with my friend, Mike. This area involves a LOT of walking on sand, but it has great variety of habitats. We get views of the ocean, bay, stands of pine trees, coastal holly forest, dunes, freshwater ponds, and grassy areas.

We started bright and early, but we immediately noticed the lack of bird activity. Land birds were scarce. We visited a freshwater pond locally known as "North Pond" and found 2 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Gadwall, and a lone Ring-necked Duck among some Canada Geese. We then walked about 1/2 a mile out to the beach and didn't see a single land bird! Once out to the ocean, we found some groups of Long-tailed Ducks, 8 Northern Gannets, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons and a few Bonaparte's Gulls. We walked along the sand dunes and finally scared up some songbirds - Song Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We had found most of the species we anticipated seeing, but numbers seemed much lower than previous year.

We headed back to the cars for a food break and then scoured some of the wooded habitats. Again, songbirds were scarce. We finally found a White-throated Sparrow and even found a Field Sparrow and some American Tree Sparrows. Things were looking brighter! Not only were we finding birds, the weather was heating up. I even ditched my coat and just walked around with a sweater.

We broke for lunch and then searched the bay for birds. We found lots of gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and loons. We walked around the interior of the Hook for a bit. We even explored some areas that I haven't been in. We encountered flocks of Black-capped Chickadees and our first raptors of the day. In a 10-second period, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Merlin. The Merlin was not alone - it was being chased by a Peregrine Falcon! Very cool. Also of note: The warm weather brought out a very fresh looking Orange Sulphur butterfly.

The last bird we saw was a Hermit Thrush. The most interesting thing about this bird was that it was doing the mysterious foot quiver!

It was getting dark, so we headed to the round-up. We ate some great catered food and then did the daily tally for the CBC. The tally is always a lot of fun. There were 6-8 groups of birders covering the CBC area. We go through each species on the official Sandy Hook CBC list and check off which ones each group saw. No one tells anyone about their rare birds until this time. As a group, we saw 109 species - 1 more than last year. Some of the rarities included Baltimore Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, and Great Egret. Also, for at least the third year in a row, a female Barrow's Goldeneye was found (probably the same bird each year). Amazing!


Susan Gets Native said...

I would really like to join in a Christmas bird count...the closest I have been is I did a RAPTOR educational program for the public before the tallies at a local park.

I am trying to rustle up some fellow bloggers and make it to NJ next year, and we just may have to find you and make you come birding with us!

Patrick Belardo said...


That would be great if you came to NJ! I'd gladly go birding with you all.

LauraHinNJ said...

I did the CBC once and it is a long day! Tougher than WSB I think because the birds are hard to find in a limited area.

Really enjoyed the round-up afterwards, though!

Glad you had good weather and a few birds. What was the rarity of the day?

Patrick Belardo said...

It wasn't the best day for rarities... I guess the Barrow's Goldeneye was the bird of the day,

mon@rch said...

Sounds like everyone had low numbers of birds this year! Good thing for those ducks!!