Friday, December 29, 2006
These birders are participants in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the nation’s oldest bird survey. The tradition began in 1900, when ornithologist Frank Chapman initiated the count as an alternative to all-day Christmas hunting competitions that were popular at the time.
That first year, 25 CBCs took place around North America with the help of 27 people. Ninety species were detected, ranging from the common American Crow to the not-so-common Greater Prairie-chicken. This year marks the 107th CBC season, with more than 50,000 people surveying in 2000 count areas from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America. Last year, participants counted more than 61 million birds.
CBC results are an important tool for detecting changes in bird population size and distribution. Vermont birders are quick to note that Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Wren are newcomers to our state, while Evening Grosbeak used to be more common. The CBC results back them up. The data also show that Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks are irruptive species, meaning that they only move southward from Canada in some winters, depending on food availability. Other species, such as Northern Shrike and Harris’s Sparrow, breed in the High Arctic where there are no breeding season surveys, so the CBC is one of the only ways to detect changes in their population size.
Eighteen Christmas Bird Counts are conducted throughout Vermont. In addition to collecting important bird population information, participants sometimes find rare or unusual birds on the counts. The Champlain Islands/St. Albans count was held on Dec. 17 and turned up an Eastern Phoebe, a bird normally found in the mid-Atlantic states at this time of year.
For information on the CBCs in Vermont, and how to participate, visit Vermont eBird.
Noteworthy bird sightings from around the state this week include an Iceland Gull at the Intervale compost in Burlington on Dec 24. Two Peregrine Falcons were observed in Addison on Dec. 23. A Carolina Wren was seen in East Dorset on Dec. 24. Holiday sightings included a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Manchester, a Northern Shrike in Brandon, and Brown Creepers at Leffert’s Pond in Chittenden.
You can explore all the birds reported last week in Vermont and add your own sightings at www.ebird.org/vins.
Friday, December 22, 2006
To make it even stranger, kinglets only eat insects. You’ll never see one at your bird feeders. Woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees eat insects too, but they can also eat seeds and suet. Most insectivorous birds of the north woods avoid the energy crunch by migrating to more benign climates when insects become scarce.
Even with the ability to find plenty of insect food in the seemingly sterile winter woods, it would be physically impossible for them to survive the night unless they had a special place to roost. Researchers in
Several biologists had suggested that kinglets survived by sleeping in shelters such as old squirrel or bird nests or by huddling together at night. Enter the ever inquisitive Heinrich again. After dozens of attempts to follow kinglets foraging in late afternoon and evening, he was finally successful during twilight one December evening.
Heinrich reported his observation in the Wilson Bulletin, a journal of ornithology,“…at 4:20 pm I saw three kinglets fly into a brushy white pine. In less than a minute I found four kinglets huddled together about 4 meters above the ground under thick branches.”
He returned an hour later with a step ladder and a camera. The birds remained huddled together through the night with their heads tucked into the back feathers and just the tails sticking out. The temperature went as low as 14 degrees that night.
The smallest winter bird in the north woods transforms itself into a big bird creating a lower surface area to volume ratio. They radiate less body heat per unit of mass, enabling them to conserve heat and survive a frosty
Other bird observations this past week featured reports of “lingering” and “late” migrants during the unseasonably warm December weather. Three ruby-crowned kinglets were found during the Winhall Christmas bird count. Two late-migrating red-necked grebes were spotted this week, one at
in Quechee and a northern pintail in
A red-bellied woodpecker was seen in Pownal on December 12 and in the
You can explore all the birds reported in
Friday, December 15, 2006
A remarkable encounter of a very rare
Three-toed woodpeckers are closely related to, and potentially confused with, black-backed woodpeckers, another boreal forest specialist of
Other noteworthy avian sightings during the past week included two reports of another woodpecker, the red-bellied, with single birds in
Chris Rimmer, VINS Conservation Biologist
Monday, December 11, 2006
The website offers general information on mountain biodiversity and ongoing activities
Official website: www.fao.org/mnts/intl_mountain_day_en.asp
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Nice weather and the Vermont Bird Notes on crossbills this past week prompted me to hike the Black Swamp Trail past a mid elevation spruce-fir swamp and then up to the summit of Shrewsbury Peak in search of crossbills. It was quite windy with about 6 inches of snow on the mountain.
This past summer was a bumper crop of fir cones in the high elevations which usually leads to both crossbills and red squirrels. You can read a past VINS bird notes on this cycle.
In both the swamp and the montane spruce-fir zone nearly 90% of the fir cones have fallen already leaving just the naked stems from the center of the cone.
Red Spruce mast is also heavy and the cones
remain intact on the trees. I encountered 3 Red Squirrels (one in the swamp and two on the mountain).
I did not encounter any crossbills. I did see one small flock of Pine Siskins fly over the swamp.
Location: Shrewsbury Peak
Observation date: 12/10/06
Ruffed Grouse 2
Black-capped Chickadee 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Purple Finch 2
Pine Siskin 3
This report was generated automatically by Vermont eBird v2 (http://www.ebird.org/vins)
Friday, December 08, 2006
Two of the most remarkable species found here in winter are the White-winged and Red Crossbill. Separating these members of the finch family from most other songbirds is their ability, in the snowy, cold depths of winter, to incubate eggs and raise young.
Two of the three species of Crossbill (genus Loxia) can be found in Vermont, if you know where to look. Red with black wings (females are mustard yellow to olive green), these creatures of the coniferous forest are nomadic. To find them, you need to pay close attention to one fact: they are irruptive species, tracing available, abundant food supplies like shoppers at a Blue Light Special.
Crossbills are conifer cone specialists. When the cone crop is poor in Canada, the White-winged Crossbill (appropriately named for its wingbars) will venture to the southern limits of their breeding range, including boreal habitat throughout Vermont, to satisfy its daily intake of 3,000 seeds. The more rare and sporadic Red Crossbill is reported only every few years in Vermont.
Most songbirds feed protein-filled insects to their growing chicks, but Crossbills are lifelong seedeaters. In fact, Crossbills nest opportunistically at almost any time of the year, as long as conifer seed is plentiful. It is hypothesized that they cue in on both available and developing seed to assess whether supplies will be adequate to develop eggs and raise chicks. In Vermont, Crossbills usually start nesting in February or March, but they can be found breeding until the end of summer.
The name “Crossbill” suggests the species’ unique adaptation for harvesting cone seed. Their upper and lower mandibles overlap side by side when they close their beaks, creating an overbite to form an X at the tip. A Crossbill opens its beak slightly, places it under a cone scale, and bites down. The tips of the beak cross, wedge into the scale, and pry it open to expose the seed within.
Winter visitors include the first Snowy Owl of the winter (Panton), Rough-legged hawk (Vergennes), and a Lapland Longspur seen with a flock of Horned Larks (Dead Creek). Notable waterbirds include Northern Shoveler (Mud Creek), Redhead (Colchester), Barrow’s Goldeneye (Shelburne), and Red-throated Loon (Brattleboro). Lingering migrants include a Tree Swallow and Winter Wrens. Feeder sightings include Carolina Wrens and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Northern Shrikes and Evening Grosbeaks continue to populate birders’ reports.
You can explore all the birds reported last week in Vermont and add your own sightings at www.ebird.org/vins.
Friday, December 01, 2006
As if finding one Vermont-banded Bicknell's Thrush in the remote mountains of the Dominican Republic wasn't remarkable enough, VINS biologists recently reported on a second such improbable encounter. In a paper published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology, Jason Townsend and VINS Conservation Biologist Chris Rimmer documented their recovery of a nestling Bicknell's Thrush banded on Stratton Mountain on July 13, 2002 and mist-netted in Sierra de Neiba on December 29, 2003. This encounter further highlights the close biological link between the two regions, and it underscores the importance of connecting conservation efforts at both ends of this species' migratory range.
Many people consider Purple Sandpipers to be poorly named because the purple sheen on the shoulder feathers is rarely seen, and it is not present at all in breeding plumage. They are medium-sized shorebirds with orange legs and a slightly drooping bill, but are probably most recognizable by their foraging behavior. As they scurry among the rocks looking for mollusks, invertebrates, and insects between swells, they must occasionally fly into the air to avoid being washed out to sea.
Purple Sandpipers breed in the arctic regions of North America and
Purple Sandpiper nests are most susceptible to predation from foxes and jaegers, large predatory gull-like birds. When disturbed from the nest, adults will perform what is called a “rodent run” display. The sandpipers lead intruders away from the nest by running along the ground in a crouched posture with back feathers ruffled and wings flapping, all the while making mouse-like squealing sounds.
In the winter, they move south along coastlines to ice-free, rocky areas. On the Atlantic coast of North America, they can be found as far north as
Purple Sandpipers appear to be declining in some regions, with both American populations considered to be of high concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, a partnership of organizations dedicated to conserving shorebirds. Threats to the species include environmental contaminants, hunting, egg collection, oil spills, and habitat loss. Purple Sandpipers likely benefit from the construction of man-made rocky structures such as jetties and seawalls.
Other noteworthy bird sightings from
You can explore all the birds reported last week in