Sunday December 20th saw Brian Kane and I join our friend Scott Surner for his traditional sector of the Northampton Christmas Bird Count. Though we haven't always been able to join Scott for the count every December, Brian and I have always made the effort, as long as time and weather permitted. Indeed, I first did this particular count with Scott way back in December 2005! This year Annie Nugent joined the team for the first time and as always it turned out to be a massively enjoyable day enriched by fine birding, decent weather and great company. It was around 19 deg F at dawn, calm and overcast throughout the day until around 14:00 hours when the forecast snow showers started in earnest and effectively closed play for the day. Annie and Brian quite sensibly departed at that point while Scott and I trudged on through the snow until 16:00 hours but couldn't muster a single addition for the day's tally!
The day delivered 49 species, slightly lower than the 53 - 55 species that we typically record in Scott's sector. We began at Hadley Cove steadily working our way north through the Aqua Vitae Road, Hadley Honey Pot, and finishing at the end of Meadow Street, North Hadley. Portions of the Connecticut River were frozen over and the river wasn't quite as lively as we'd seen on previous counts. Moreover, late afternoon snow flurries interfered with observations upriver in North Hadley, a section of the river that often produced surprises in the past.
In the event, the day was as much about chasing long standing 'lesser' rarities as much as it was about actual 'bird finding' and I'm really not sure if we came up with any species that hadn't been identified and established in the weeks prior to the count. Our tally included a couple of late/wintering migrants at Hadley DPW - Eastern Phoebe and Yellow-rumped Warbler, and two rare sparrows, or rather locally rare sub-species of sparrows in the form of an 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow and the gambelli form of White-crowned Sparrow. We eventually ended up having excellent views of both sub-species on the Aqua Vitae Road which proved to be one of the more enjoyable parts of the day. Being an incursion year, we also found several large flocks of Common Redpolls but never came close to finding a Hoary Redpoll, failing to repeat our success with Hoaries in the 2012 count. Flocks of Horned Larks were scattered fairly frequent throughout the day but few settled and we had to work especially hard to find just a handful of Snow Buntings and a single Lapland Longspur, though the latter just happened to be a nice male.
Raptors were few but we did well for Northern Harriers with at least three seen, as well as Bald Eagle, Peregrine and Merlin. As so often happens on Christmas Counts and Big Days, we had our share of agonizing misses but one that really stood out for me was Feral Rock Pigeon. In the early part of the day we joked that at least one bird we could guarantee was Feral Pigeon. Scott was a lot more cautious and indicated pretty heavily that we might have our work cut out to find one. How right he was! Even our best bet at the Coolidge Bridge was bereft of Feral Pigeons, certainly a big change in status from the years that I've done the count and Scott tells me that the Coolidge Bridge used to support hundreds of pigeons in decades past. Even so, to spend an entire day birding in the Connecticut River Valley missing Feral Pigeon struck me as bizarre!
As always, it was tremendous fun being out in the field with Scott and friends, and taking part in this long standing, traditional event. This year, quite naturally, we approached the count safely and carefully using four separate vehicles and keeping our distance in the field. It worked surprisingly well and proved to be no real detriment to the count. As to the bigger picture, well the overall participation fielded no less than 186 observers who identified 86 bird species and counted some 36374 individual birds! Thanks very much to Janice F. Jorgensen and Amanda Kallenbach, co-compilers for this year's count. And of course, special thanks to Scott Surner for putting up with us for yet another year!