2014 Boston CBC – good weather, fair birding in the JP sector

This year’s Boston Christmas Bird Count went off without a hitch on Sunday December 12th; last year’s count had to be postponed because of a bad snowstorm.  No weather problems this year, but the birding did not match the weather.  This was the 114th CBC in the Jamaica Plain sector.  We fielded eight birders to work the birding hot spots from the Landmark Center on the Riverway up the Emerald Necklace thru Franklin Park, including Forest Hills Cemetery and ending up at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.  A hardy (or foolish) threesome from the group began at 4:30 AM seeking owls; they then joined the others at Jamaica Pond at 7:00 AM and we finished up at 3:00 PM.  Later that evening a final listing of all the birds seen in the 15 mile diameter Boston circle was compiled.

The Jamaica Plain species count was 49 for the day.  The species with the highest numbers in JP was Canada Goose –1169 to be exact.  Most of those were found on the golf course in Franklin Park; local golfers will not be happy to hear that!  We also tallied 82 robins, 59 chickadees and 45 doves.  Some of our “best” birds were a Gadwall duck and a House Wren, both in Franklin Park.  Other “good” birds were seen in the Arnold Arboretum.  Oddly, three of them were found within six feet of each other;  Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Gray Catbird. Catbirds are a very common migratory bird in Boston during the spring and summer, but by early fall they all head south . All but this one- it was the only catbird seen in Boston in this year’s CBC!  Stragglers like this have a very tough haul to reach the spring sunshine; he or she will probably perish over the long cold winter.  That tempers the excitement of finding an out-of-season bird.

Just as there were some great finds in JP, there were unexpected misses as well.  Most surprising, the two hours of “owling” in the early dawn came up empty.  We seldom fail to find at least a few Eastern Screech-owls and Great Horned Owls on the JP CBC.  This doesn’t mean they weren’t there, just that they didn’t respond to imitations of their calls or show themselves in the developing light.  One of our group, who lives on the edge of Forest Hills Cemetery, actually heard two Great Horned Owls calling to each other just two days after the Sunday count.  Note that this year Boston had an all time high count for Great Horned Owl- 18.

Below is the official list of birds recorded in the full Boston Count. I have highlighted some of the special birds that our local group added to the count.  All of this information will be compiled into a data set for all of North America and much of Central and South America.

The CBC provides highly significant information on those bird species that are increasing in number or becoming endangered, as well as showing geographic shifts in response to climate change or habitat loss.

Here is the BCBC list and summary, compiled by Bob Stymeist who has been leading this effort for many years:
Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count

The 42nd Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count (CBC) (actually the 114th- Belmont, Jamaica Plain and Winchester have been covered since the very first CBC in 1900!)  was held yesterday  with very nice weather conditions. We recorded 120 species and so far there were an additional NINE species that were seen within count period.  We added ONE new species to the overall list- a Semipalmated Plover that was found and photographed on Thompson Island, this brings the total number of species seen on the Boston CBC to 229!
We had all time high counts for: Cackling Goose-2, Northern Shoveler-11 Ruddy Duck-310, Wild Turkey-125, Common Loon-107, Peregrine Falcon-11, Great Horned Owl-18, Downy Woodpecker-382, Northern Flicker-46, White-breasted Nuthatch-358, Carolina Wren-115, House Wren-3, Winter Wren- 11, and Orange-crowned Warbler-8

There were many highlights and as always the case a few birds that were surprisingly missed: Cackling Goose 2 at Clay Pit Pond, Belmont, Harlequin Duck in Winthrop, the Barrow’s Goldeneye from Deer Island, Rough-legged Hawk 2 from Saugus, the Semipalmated Plover on Thompson Island, 14 Snowy Owls (13 at Logan, 1 in Saugus), House Wrens in three areas, and an Indigo Bunting in Newton. Big misses were; Lesser Scaup, Sanderling, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

Thanks to the over 115 birders who canvassed the area to make the count successful. 120 species plus nine additional birds seen during count week but not on count day

Brant  61
Cackling Goose  2
Canada Goose  5417
Mute Swan  68
Wood Duck  4   2 Leverett Pond
Gadwall  8  1 Scarborough Pond, Franklin Park
American Wigeon  4
American Black Duck  561
Mallard  2041
Northern Shoveler  17
Northern Pintail  1
Green-winged Teal  11
Canvasback  1
Ring-necked Duck  190
Greater Scaup  315
Lesser Scaup  CW (Count Week)
Common Eider  1487
Harlequin Duck  1     Winthrop
Surf Scoter  548
White-winged Scoter  534
Black Scoter  82
Long-tailed Duck  42
Bufflehead  629
Common Goldeneye  157
Barrow’s Goldeneye  1     Deer Island
Hooded Merganser  372
Common Merganser  323
Red-breasted Merganser  282
Ruddy Duck  310
Ring-necked Pheasant  CW  Watertown
Wild Turkey  125
Red-throated Loon  62
Common Loon  107
Pied-billed Grebe  8  6 Jamaica Pond
Horned Grebe  121
Red-necked Grebe  7
Northern Gannet  3
Double-crested Cormorant  46
Great Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  38
Black-crowned Night-Heron  CW
Northern Harrier  2
Sharp-shinned Hawk  5
Cooper’s Hawk  21
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  107
Rough-legged Hawk 2
American Coot  176  44 Jamaica Pond
Semipalmated Plover  1
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Ruddy Turnstone  2
Dunlin  54
Purple Sandpiper  5
Wilson’s Snipe  1
Black Guillemot  2
Ring-billed Gull  1512
Herring Gull  2845
Iceland Gull  CW
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1
Great Black-backed Gull  270
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1710
Mourning Dove  704
Eastern Screech-Owl  23
Great Horned Owl  18
Snowy Owl  14- 13 at Logan, 1 in Saugus

Barred Owl  2
Belted Kingfisher  9
Red-bellied Woodpecker  51
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Downy Woodpecker  382
Hairy Woodpecker  34
Northern Flicker  46
American Kestrel  4
Merlin  4
Peregrine Falcon  11
Monk Parakeet  CW
Blue Jay  617
American Crow  385
Fish Crow  36  35 Franklin Field
Common Raven 1
Horned Lark  59
Black-capped Chickadee  1044
Tufted Titmouse  327
Red-breasted Nuthatch  3  2 Arnold Arboretum
White-breasted Nuthatch  358
Brown Creeper  21
House Wren  3     1 Franklin Park
Winter Wren  11
Marsh Wren  1
Carolina Wren  176
Golden-crowned Kinglet  18
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Eastern Bluebird  3
Hermit Thrush  18 1 Arnold Arboretum
American Robin  3388
Gray Catbird  1 Arnold Arboretum
Northern Mockingbird  118
European Starling  5850
American Pipit  CW
Cedar Waxwing  24
Lapland Longspur  1
Snow Bunting  67
Ovenbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  8 1 Arnold Arboretum
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Eastern Towhee 3
American Tree Sparrow  205
Chipping Sparrow  2
Field Sparrow  CW
Savannah Sparrow  11
Fox Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  440
Swamp Sparrow  23
White-throated Sparrow  563
Dark-eyed Junco  1178
Northern Cardinal  400
Indigo Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  37
Common Grackle  4
Baltimore Oriole  CW
House Finch  279
Purple Finch  1
Common Redpoll  19
Pine Siskin  13  6 Forest Hills Cemetery
American Goldfinch  472
House Sparrow  4244

Good Birding and Happy Holidays!

A Winter Birding Foray at Olmsted Park

About 15 birders joined me and National Park Ranger Mark Swartz for a walk along Leverett Pond and through Olmsted Park up to Ward’s Pond and back.  It was cold and damp following the heavy rains overnight but the group was in good spirits, even though the avian harvest was far from abundant.

We began by searching for the Wood Ducks that have been hanging out on the Boston side of one of the small islands in Leverett.  The water was so high from the rains it was hard to find the island!  But after a search we did manage to discover a few “woodies” among the sunken shrubbery.  Near the end of the walk we were lucky enough to see a beautiful pair close up.  The Wood Duck may be the most spectacular native duck in this area:

Wood Duck pr.

Male (top) and female Wood Ducks                                                                     Photo: Bob Mayer

As we were admiring the Wood Ducks, several Ring-necked Ducks passed by:


Male Ring-necked Ducks. Why isn’t this bird named Ring-billed Duck?                                           Photo: Bob Mayer

Then someone in the group noticed a pair of Hooded Mergansers hiding in the aquatic undergrowth:


A female Hooded Merganser leading a male.                                                                                       Photo: Bob Mayer

After this hat trick we spent a few minutes comparing female Mallards and American Black Ducks, which can be confusing.

Our search for land birds was disappointing.  Other than the usual winter species- robins, titmouses, chickadees, and several sparrow species- we came up short.  The youngest member of our group, perhaps ten years old,  treated us to his perfect rendition of the call of the Mourning Dove.  No real MODO’s responded however.  As we circled Ward’s Pond we did have one Hermit Thrush hidden in a tangled bittersweet vine.  This is a lovely bird:


Hermit Thrush. The rusty tail and wing primaries distinguish it from other similar thrushes, and it is the only one likely to be seen in this weather.                                                                                         Photo: Bob Mayer

The other nice surprise was two Great Blue Herons hunkered down in the reeds around that pond.  Seeing them up close demonstrated how big these birds are:


Great Blue Heron. Judging from the plumage of this bird it is likely a juvenile.                           Photo: Bob Mayer

Both herons flushed briefly while we were passing by, giving us another view of their impressive size:


Adult Great Blue Heron.                                                                                                                           Photo: Bob Mayer

A few days before the walk Mark and I made a scouting tour of the area and we located a somewhat uncommon bird at Ward’s Pond. Of course we were anxious to find it for the group, but it was not to be.  Winter Wrens are notorious skulkers, hiding deftly in the underbrush.  Other birders had reported the wren in this location off and on for at least a month prior to the walk.  Perhaps it had moved on, but more likely it was there, watching us listen and search.  Here is an image of the bird taken on our scouting trip:


Winter Wren. This bird is only a little more than three inches in length.  At nine grams, you could mail three of them with a single first class stamp!                                                                                 Photo: Bob Mayer

This tiny wren carries a big stick when it comes to vocalization however. Here is it’s lovely call (sung mostly in the spring):

Here is the meager list from the walk:

Olmsted Park–Leverett Pond, Suffolk, US-MA
Dec 7, 2014 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments:     overcast. 30
18 species

Canada Goose  45
Wood Duck  5
American Black Duck  7
Mallard  60
Ring-necked Duck  4
Hooded Merganser  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Ring-billed Gull  3
Blue Jay  2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  5
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  6
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  2
American Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  10

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S20830319

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)

The annual Boston Christmas Bird Count is scheduled to take place this Sunday December 14, and the Jamaica Plain section will begin at 7 AM at Jamaica Pond.  If you are interested in joining this all day event you can contact me at rgmayer@comcast.net and I can give you more details.

My next walk is scheduled for early January 2015.  Here are the details:

Sunday, January 11, Arnold Arboretum, Boston.  This will be an easy two-hour walk from the main gate to Bussey Hill and back, focusing on winter birds as well as admiring the woody plant collection in winter. See the arboretum website http://www.arboretum.harvard.edu for directions and a checklist of birds. Meeting place:  Inside the main gate off the Arborway (parking along the Arborway). 9:00 a.m.

I hope some of you can join me.

Good birding!