This is a report of the results of the December 17, 2016 Rockford Christmas Bird Count.
Happily, the bad weather that had been forecast for December 17 failed to materialize, so we had a pretty good day to count birds. The snow held off until later in the afternoon and had little impact on the count unless you had planned to go owling in the evening. Morning conditions for owling were good. The snow from the night before meant that some places were not accessible, and walking was difficult in forest preserves and other unplowed areas.
The cold weather that preceded the count meant that most of the still water (ponds, lakes) were frozen, although a quarry was open near Roscoe. Moving water was mostly open except the Rock River above the Fordham Dam, but the Rock river below the Rockton dam was open.
Normally we have 35-40 counters, but this year only 31 were able to participate.
Those 31, plus feeder watchers, counted a total of 78 species, (3 above the last 5 year average) and 17,914 individuals (approximately 5,000 lower than the last 5 year average), so even though the species list was high, the total number of birds was down. Most of the difference was in the waterfowl category (all of that frozen water and snow cover). There were 2 count week (“cw”) species – Sandhill Crane and Eastern Meadowlark.
Highlights include a species new to the count, Black-crowned Night-heron; first one, then a second, immature bird was seen in the willows along the stream below the Westlake dam. At least one was still present on Monday, the 19th. New high counts were: Greater White-fronted Goose (9), Wild Turkey (228, edging out the previous high of 226), Hermit Thrush (7), Fox Sparrow (17), and Dark-eyed Junco (3,172). It seemed like juncos were everywhere along the roadsides this year.
Waterbirds were very scarce. A few were in creeks and small streams where the water was open, but most were in the Roscoe quarry. Very few gulls were spotted. We also had fairly low numbers of raptors. Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech-owls were low. I suspect that the snow depth caused some hawks to move. The lower owl count is partially the result of the inability of observers to access the areas where they are normally found. After several years of increasing woodpecker numbers, that group had much lower totals. I don’t know why (low # of counters?). For the first time in a number of years, no Northern Shrikes were reported.
The high counts of Hermit Thrushes and Fox Sparrows could be the result of birds being trapped by the series of snowstorms and cold fronts that hit the area a week earlier and kept (and are still) coming.
Winter finches have not moved into northern IL so far this year, and Red-breasted Nuthatches are very scarce. The total absence of Pine Siskins is disappointing, plus few Purple Finches were seen, a continuing and troubling trend. There was a single Common Redpoll reported. There was a report of 10 redpolls at a feeder in Pecatonica that same day, but the feeder was outside of the count circle.
On the subject of “outside the count circle,” a reporter on eBird posted that he saw thousands of geese, including both large and small white geese, plus a Short-eared Owl, flying west to east over I-90 in South Beloit on count day. South Beloit is not in the count circle, but the sighting is evidence that a lot of birds were in that part of the county, perhaps in Lake Victoria in South Beloit, which is an old quarry, and which might have been open on count day. So close, but yet so far.
The final count report filed with National Audubon is attached below.
Thanks to all of you who participated. I appreciate it very much. Next year’s count will be held on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Please save the date. I hope that you will participate.
Best wishes for a Happy New Year!