Happy New Year Everyone!
Attached is the final report of the Rockford CBC conducted on Saturday, December 19, 2015. The weather on December 19 was fairly pleasant-reasonable temperatures, mostly sunny, low wind-so birding conditions were favorable.
Each year our count manages to produce some surprises, and this year was not an exception. We tallied 75 species and 20,849 individuals on count day. A small flock of 5 swans was unable to be identified to species because they were flying over a vehicle at the time of observation. A Northern Saw-whet Owl was a count week bird on December 21.
Many of us noted that it was often difficult to find birds, particularly land birds, and we had to dig them out. This was likely due to the unseasonably warm weather experienced in the Rockford area during the fall and into December. While the factors that go into an analysis are often complicated, and opinions aren’t often worth the paper they are printed on, the unseasonable mild temperatures probably had several contradictory effects on birds and the count.
Warm temperatures were recorded far north of Illinois, so the wetlands and lakes in those regions remained open, delaying waterfowl migration. Their resident water birds delayed their departure from the north. (See my note on Sandhill Cranes that follows). Passerines in our area, that would normally have moved on, apparently lingered until the major snow storm (12″ of snow in northwest Winnebago County). As a result, many birds either moved on or did not survive the storm. Then, it got warm again and rained, so that by Thanksgiving Day, all of the snow was melted. Still, waterfowl had not moved in, and other migrants had not arrived, so we were caught in the doldrums of migration.
The front that arrived on December 17-18 dropped temperatures and caused some still water to freeze, but, because northern waterfowl and passerines had not arrived, we had some low numbers on the count. The passerines that were formerly spread out because of the lack of snow and access to natural foods had not had time to find and congregate at feeders or in more sheltered spots.
Surprise #1: Total number of individuals counted was only 821 below the last 10-year rolling average of 21,670. And, surprise #2, the 75 species seen, 4 more than the 10-year rolling average of 71, is 4th place high count on the all-time list for the Rockford CBC. Last year’s high of 80 set the record; there were 79 in 1998-99 and 76 in 2013-14.
Some highlights. SANDHILL CRANES (321) completely smashed the old record high (38) by nearly 10X. 296 were at Nygren Wetlands. This was not a surprise, since thousands of Sandhills were reported to be still migrating over Chicago on New Year’s weekend. The cold front got them moving.
A PEREGRINE FALCON was recorded for the first time on the count. EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES have increased incrementally, with 5. For some reason, they are still sparse in Winnebago County, but thriving in Ogle County, where one team on the Kishwaukee CBC had 155 on December 26. PILEATED WOODPECKERS continue to increase. 13 tied the high set last year. BALD EAGLES (64) exceeded the old high of 44.
Species for which only a single individual was observed were: Snow and Ross’ Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Horned Grebe, Rough-legged Hawk (no snow up north), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds, and Purple Finch.
Some low lights: No Hermit Thrushes, Common Grackles, Snow Buntings, Short-eared Owls, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (with the warm temps, these were expected) or White-crowned Sparrows. Low numbers of waterfowl overall; Pine Siskins and Purple Finches weren’t gathering in numbers around feeders.