2018 HARTFORD CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT SUMMARY
It wasn’t as bad as the forecast predicted. We didn’t really have any sleet or freezing rain, high winds never materialized and it did not rain heavily much of the day. That is not to say it was nice. Temperatures were relatively steady in the high 30s during the daylight hours and while it was damp throughout, there were long stretches during which it didn’t precipitate much if at all. Eighty-four field observers was a little below the norm, but they made up for it with time in the field. Total party hours were up slightly over 2017, and total party miles exceeded last year’s effort by over 100 miles! Quite remarkable on a miserable day.
Every Count is different and this year was no exception. In spite of November reports of pine siskins and even evening grosbeaks in the area, not a single winter finch was reported on the Hartford count for the second consecutive year. Temperatures well below freezing prior to the Count did not translate into the conditions we found last year. There was no ice on rivers, and in most locations, even still water was partially open. As such, several interesting species of waterfowl were recorded this year. Snow often concentrates birds into smaller, more predictable areas where food is readily available.
Speaking of food, several parties noted it was a poor year for nuts, seeds and fruit.
All the above factors contributed to numerous ten year low counts for a wide variety of species.
Although one of the primary objectives of the Christmas Bird Count is to track long term trends in bird populations, year to year fluctuations can swing wildly. For example, one year after reaching a ten-year high count, Canada Goose dropped to a ten-year low. Other species exhibiting ten year low counts included Mute Swan, Black Duck, Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Dark-eyed Junco, Brown-headed Cowbird and House Finch. In addition to the aforementioned winter finches, also missed on our Count this year were Marsh Wren (last missed in 2011) and Fox Sparrow (2014).
Not all the news was bad and there were a number of nice surprises this year. The only unusual goose reported was lone Greater White-fronted Goose found in the Rocky Hill Meadows. Perhaps this goose is becoming more common in our area as this was the sixth report in the past ten years for this once rare species. Bufflehead and Common Loon were both last reported in 2014. Killdeer has appeared twice as a Count Week bird, but was last found in 2013. Perhaps the best bird of the Count, a Northern Shrike reported from Newington, was last found on our Count in 2011. A single American Kestrel in Glastonbury was a welcome find. A Chipping Sparrow, also in Glastonbury, marked the third consecutive year for this diminutive sparrow, but only the fourth time in the past ten years. A Lincoln’s Sparrow sighting marked the third time in the past ten years for this elusive species. We reached ten year high counts for Field and Swamp Sparrow. The bulk of sparrow reports came from the incredible sparrow habitat found in the Glastonbury meadows. To the chagrin of birders, much of it is on private property and is generally not accessible to the public except on special guided walks.
Each year, several species, missed on the day of our Count, are sighted during Count Week, three days prior to and three days following Count Day. Although Snowy Owl did not make the list three years in a row, this year’s Count Week birds included Green-winged Teal, last missed on Count Day in 2013, Iceland Gull and American Pipit. The latter, seen as a Count Week bird, was missed for only the second time over the past ten years, but it has been missed in two of the last four.
Finally, let’s talk about crows. This year, the state’s largest crow roost has moved about a mile to the east. It has also, apparently, increased in size and was estimated at 19,000 birds. The roost usually remains until mid-February. If anyone would like an interesting experience, visit the Mark Twain House on Farmington Avenue in Harford late some afternoon around 4 PM. If you stand right in front of the Visitors Information Building, where many of the crows stage before flying south to the actual roost on Hawthorn Street a half mile to the south. You won’t be disappointed!
Total species for the Count stands at 84, five less than last year, but not surprising considering the less than ideal weather conditions. On behalf of the compilers, thank you to all the captains, field observers and feeder watchers for your efforts this year. Let’s hope for better weather in 2019! This was the 119th edition of the Christmas Bird Count, the longest running of all citizen science-based research projects. We hope to see many of you next year.
A ten-year spreadsheet for Hartford Christmas Bird Count results will be available at upcoming monthly meetings of the Hartford Audubon Society. It is also available by sending an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes for the Holiday Season and the New Year!
Jay Kaplan & Steve Davis, Co-Compilers
Hartford Christmas Bird Count