Saturday, December 17, 2011

Results are in!

We crested the first ridgetop around 7am, the sun barely shining through the bare branches of the black oaks. Our Christmas Bird Count was shaping up to be a bluebird skies kind of day with winds light and variable, highs expected to reach the mmid-40s from this morning's low of 22 degrees. On the drive to our assigned woodlands, we counted two Northern mockingbirds and a Cooper's hawk hanging out above an empty bird feeder (and all the feeder birds next door in the quince). I left the regular group I bird with for the count because I'm really not very good with identifying waterfowl at a distance, and I don't really like birding at sewage treatment plants.

The sun finally came up above the hills, shining brightly on the dolomite cliff above the creek. Like clockwork, birds came into the sunlight, in plain view for our tally sheets. Yellow-rumped warblers, Red-bellied woodpeckers, a single Yellow-breasted Sapsucker drilling into a cedar, good woodland birds were tallied today with no sparrows to speak of and not a single Hermit thrush. Today's highlight included listening to the little warble of Golden-crowned kinglets as they flitted around the white oaks in the valley.

The highlights of this year's count include the spotting of 5 million blackbirds in one roost, blackening the trees for a mile; 50 screech owls along one stretch of the KATY Trail (a historic number); watching an American kestral swoop in and attack a mouse; Virginia rails and Sand Hill cranes in the wetlands at the sewage treatment plant. The best part of the day, however, was the solitude we found in the 8 mile trail through the woods where my small team of two didn't see another person until we met the rest of the Area 4S group for a late lunch to compare notes. We never found a Hermit thrush, but found the Winter wren and the only Golden-crowned kinglets in the section. Overall, we tallied 103 species for the Count Circle, which isn't too bad for an urban setting with a horrible sprawl problem.

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