(The 2021 Hartford Christmas Bird Count is dedicated to the memory of long time Area Captain and former HAS President, Gil Kleiner. Gil, we missed you covering Windsor on this year’s Count!)

Last year’s Hartford Christmas Bird Count featured a foot of snow on the ground.  This year, there was none!  What’s more, warm temperatures throughout the fall kept even small ponds open. So, on a day without snow and ice, and temperature reaching well into the thirties, why were there so many complaints throughout the State about how few birds were seen on the first weekend of the Christmas Count season?  Let us consider some plausible explanations.  First, the lack of freezing temperatures may have kept waterfowl, raptors and other birds from moving southward out of northern New England.  Would these same conditions, however, allow some species to linger in our area rather than move to warmer climes for winter?  Second, the mild, open conditions also allowed birds to find food over a wide area and kept them from clustering in sheltered areas near restricted food supplies.  Third, a big issue on Count Day was a cold 10-15 mph northwest wind that made it feel much colder than it actually was.  When birding, wind is not your friend, as many birds remain hidden away.  Wind gusts atop the Hartford Landfill probably exceeded 20 mph on Count Day!


So, was the Count a bust?  Hardly!  In spite of the fact there were 85 field observers, 27 fewer than participated in 2020, and we covered almost 75 fewer party miles than two years ago (2019), overall numbers were not terrible.  Our 87 species was three below our ten year average of 90.1 species.  If only we could have found the three Count Period species (birds seen three days prior to or three days following the Count, but not on Count Day), we would have hit 90!  Alas, the Cackling Goose at Wethersfield’s Mill Woods Park, American Coots in South Windsor and at Batterson Pond, and the American Pipits in the Rocky Hill Meadows could not be located on Count Day.  We did, however, total 45,870 individual birds on the Count, over 14,000 more than in 2020.  Of course, two species, Canada Goose and American Crow, made up more than half the total.   In fact, Canada Goose reached a ten year high count, perhaps not surprising without snow covering the fields, lawns and golf courses.

Other ten year high counts were reached by Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle (tie), Common Raven, Gray Catbird, Eurasian Starling, Vesper Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird.  Eagles and ravens have been increasing in our area, while several others no doubt benefited from the mild conditions of late fall.  Highlights for the Count included four Pink-footed Geese in South Windsor. This marks the first time this species has been included in our Count Circle.  Other rarities included a Pied-billed Grebe and a Northern Shrike, also seen in South Windsor. The grebe last appeared on our Count in 2012, while this marks the fourth time in the past ten years that a single shrike has made the Count, the last in 2018.  A female Greater Scaup in Hartford’s “sewage lagoon” pond near Riverside Park marked this species’ second appearance since 2012, while the American Wigeons in East Hartford marked this handsome duck’s first appearance since 2016.  Other birds of note included an Iceland Gull in Wethersfield (more on gulls, later), single Snow and White-fronted Geese from the Rocky Hill Meadows, a pair of Northern Pintails, an American Kestrel and a Marsh Wren in Glastonbury, and single Hermit Thrushes in Glastonbury and Hartford.  Finally, there is no doubt that the Glastonbury Meadows is the place to be if you are a sparrow.  The Meadows produced 10 sparrow species including fox sparrow seen for the first time since 2017, a record high five Vesper Sparrow, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow for the second time in three years!  An eleventh species, Field Sparrow, was nearby in Glastonbury.  In addition, of 149 American Tree Sparrows seen on the Count, 128 came from the meadows, although this number is far below record years when the farm fields were left unplowed.  The Meadows also produced the Count’s only White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows, and also, the only Rusty Blackbirds and one of Glastonbury’s two Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.

There were several significant misses in 2021.   Following last winter’s irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatch, this species went undetected for the second time in three years.  Barred Owl and Merlin were both missed for the first time since 2000.  In the case of the owl, wind did not make early morning owling easy.  In fact, only a single Great Horned Owl was tallied.  The Merlin miss was surprising as this species seemed to be relatively common earlier in the fall.  The big shocker, however, was the absence of Great Black-backed Gull, which has been declining since the closure of the land fills about ten years ago.  The last time this gull failed to appear on our Count was in 1963, 58 years ago!  Only Ring-billed Gulls with their penchant for sitting on parking lots, seem to be holding steady with the highest total since 2016.  A number of songbirds came in at ten year lows, and one must wonder how great a role the wind played when it came to Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing (only a single bird reported from Glastonbury), and Northern Cardinal.  Hopefully, this is a one year blip, and does not continue into the future?  Finally, as anticipated, not a single winter finch was recorded on our Count this year.  It will be interesting to learn how other Connecticut Counts fared when it came to siskins, redpolls, etc.

I would like to thank the area captains, without whose participation this Count would not be successful.  Thank you, also, to all those field observers, owlers, and feeder watchers for giving up some time during the Holiday Season to go out and tally birds.  The Christmas Bird Count, begun in 1900, is the longest running of all “citizen-science” field studies.  Over time, the Count offers valuable information about trends in bird populations during the early winter.    I hope to hear from you all again next year (and on the Summer Bird Count, the second weekend in June). Happy New Year!

Jay Kaplan, Compiler

Hartford Christmas Bird Count

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