The Rockford Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, December 14. Despite the fog, which got worse in the afternoon, the combined teams managed to locate 80 species, plus 2 “count week” birds-Golden Eagle and Short-eared Owl. This is the highest total in count history, edging the old mark of 79 set in 1999.
Here are a few highlights:
Waterfowl are the big news this year. The team of Donaldson, Vincent, Kielback and Maynard had 13 waterfowl species (plus 25 Coots), Don Miller and company had a Wood Duck, and two teams had Snow Goose. Two teams (Kisamore and Longhenry) recorded Cackling Geese(27). Longhenry had the only Tundra Swan: a grand total of 17 species.
Some species were only found by one team (captains listed), such as: White-crowned Sparrow and Merlin (Eickman); Snow Bunting and Brown-headed Cowbird (Grover); Hermit Thrush, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup (Vincent); Tundra Swan (Longhenry); Rusty Blackbird and Lapland Longspur (Armstrong); Long-eared Owl (Johnson); Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Kehoe); Eurasian Collared-dove and Chipping Sparrow (Oliveri); Northern Shrike (Williams); Wood Duck (Miller).
5 Winter Wrens by 3 teams was very good. 1 team had 3. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Chipping Sparrow are well-documented. The Pecatonica Bottoms is the hotspot for Red-headed Woodpeckers, and they were only found there. 33 were recorded by Team Grover (19) on the north side of the Pecatonica River and the team of Phil Doncheck, Gary Jahnke and me (14) on the south side in the ICF/Torstenson property. Red-breasted Nuthatch is very scarce this year, and none were reported from feeders. But, 3 were found (2 and 1, respectively) in the center of the circle, which has a lot of wide open agriculture. I presume that these birds were found in cemetery conifers.
Winter finches are scarce. We managed to find only 3 Common Redpolls, 7 Purple Finches, and 65 Pine Siskins. After setting a state high count of 806 House Finches in 2009, this year’s search only found 299. I believe that the peak has passed and we won’t see numbers approaching the high total again.
Count high totals for individual species were set by the following:
Bufflehead (4), Hooded Merganser (8), Common Merganser (282), Ruddy Duck (6), American Coot (26), Barred Owl (17), Red-bellied Woodpecker (second record in a row 226), Downy Woodpecker (392), Hairy Woodpecker (86), Pileated Woodpecker ( second year in a row-13), Blue Jay (411), Black-capped Chickadee (814), White-breasted Nuthatch (374).
Low total was Ring-necked Pheasant (5). I attribute this to substantial loss of habitat, primarily by changing agricultural practices. Species often seen on the count, such as Wilson’s Snipe, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Fox Sparrow, were not seen this year. Continuing their trend, Gray Partridge and Bobwhite were not seen again this year. I believe that the only ones around are recent releases or escapes from hunt clubs.
We had 47 field counters, which is more than average. There was no snow cover so birds were scattered. While the fog made visibility difficult, the wind was low., and the mild temperatures before the count caused some still water to re-open. Good coverage by good birders, open water, and mild temperatures all combined to produce this high total.
Thank you to all who contributed their time and talent to make this count successful. Next year the count is Saturday, December 19, 2015.