Two New Species Added to the 59th Annual MV Christmas Bird Count

 In Birds

In the wee hours of January 5th, 2019, Robert Culbert was out owling to begin his species list for the 59th Annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count (MV CBC). He went to Sheriff’s Pond Sanctuary in Edgartown in search of a barred owl that had been seen there regularly, and, much to his surprise, he found it perched on the bicycle rack with a mouse in its foot! It was an historic moment for the MV CBC, adding a new species to the list. Later, Robert found the only northern saw-whet owl on the count, which is the smallest owl species in our region.

At 9:30 am., Tom Chase, Gus Ben David, and Rob Bierregaard observed two common ravens flying over the causeway at the head of Lagoon Pond while Peter and Jeremiah Trimble, and Charles and Charlie Morano observed another Raven in Edgartown around noon. Randy Rynd observed a couple of ravens in the afternoon at Thimble Farm. These observations added a second new species to the MV CBC bringing the total number of species seen on the MV CBC to 220 since it began in 1960!

Long-eared owls also made an appearance for the first time since 2003, thanks to the avid frisbee golf players who reported them to Lanny McDowell and Ken Magnuson. The images they took of the owls may be the first for an MV CBC, as owls aren’t often located during the day.

From the cliffs of Aquinnah to the Cape Poge Lighthouse, 59 birders, in twelve teams, surveyed the shorelines, ponds, forests, grasslands, shrublands, and towns to count every bird they could find. While the teams enjoyed calm weather just after dawn, much of the day afield was spent birding in intermittent rain with temperatures around 38 to 40 F. By early afternoon it was downright inhospitable, but all of the teams persisted. Tara Whiting’s Quansoo team had the only snowy owl seen in the field, and Ed Grazda reported a second snowy in his yard up near Peaked Hill.

With such poor weather, teams afield missed a few species they would typically have seen. Notably missing winter wrens and Carolina wrens that had been observed in prior weeks. However, Alan Kneidel came up with two Marsh wrens in a cattail marsh on Chappaquiddick, which were a very good find! A bald eagle, spotted by Ken Magnuson, and orange-crowned warblers seen by the Trimbles and Alan Kneidel were other good birds for the day.

Another 25 participants observed their bird feeders at home and reported data for the count. Their observations gave us two species not seen in the field: rusty blackbirds from Jill Bouck’s yard and Baltimore orioles at Patrick Phillips’ feeder. Other observant feeder watchers tallied a variety of yard birds that added to totals for the annual count.

At 5:30, all of the teams reported to the Wakeman Center for the all-island tally. When the data were compiled, birders tallied 112 species for the day, and 3 more were added during the count week (Black-bellied Plover, Great Horned Owl, and Red-headed Woodpecker). While we normally tally around 120 species for the island, everyone enjoyed finding what they could, and we were happy to add two new species. The 60th Annual Christmas Bird Count will be on Saturday, Jan. 4. 2020!

Thank you to the following groups and individuals who made the CBC possible: The Mary P. Wakeman Center for allowing us to use their facility for the tally, The George G. and Doris B. Daniels Wildlife Trust for feeding the cold and hungry birders, and Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary for hosting the feeder count. Vasha Brunelle, Sharon Pearson, and Terry Appenzellar volunteered to answer calls and emails for feeder count data, and Ingrid Moore set up the tally and assisted with data entry.

Luanne Johnson
Luanne Johnson is the Director of BiodiversityWorks and a wildlife biologist. She has been monitoring, studying, and protecting wildlife on Martha's Vineyard for 24 years.
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