Audobon Society bird count turns up some unusual finds

DIANNE TAGGART COURTESY FILE PHOTO | A black and white warbler, never before seen on the Christmas Bird Count, was found this year. The bird is usually in Central or South America this time of year.

This year’s Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, held on New Years Eve, turned up large numbers of southern birds that have usually migrated long before the end of December, and the count’s organizer believes they’ve been lulled into complacency by the warm weather that ended abruptly early this week.

“In all my years as a compiler, I’ve never seen stuff like this year,” said MaryLaura Lamont, a Jamesport resident who has been compiling the results of the local bird count for 18 years. “We’re getting species that we haven’t had on this count in years, probably because of the mild, mild winter. We’re seeing a great number of unusual species that should be down south by now.”

The count was held before the cold front that began Tuesday, and Ms. Lamont said she’s worried that many of the birds will have trouble finding insects to eat if the cold weather continues.

Not all of the statistics from the count were in as of Wednesday, but already the 50-plus volunteers who counted birds last Saturday found a black and white warbler, which would normally be in Central or South America by now and has never been found on the local bird count before. They also found Virginia rails and large numbers of marsh wrens, two great egrets, a sedge wren and two house wrens.

Ms. Lamont said the counts are held in late December (Audubon allows them to be held during a three week window from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, and the organizers of individual counts decide when they’ll be held) because it’s the time in the year when birds are where they plan to spend the winter. Once winter weather sets in, she said, if birds haven’t migrated already, they aren’t going to. Because of this, the counts give scientists an idea of where birds are overwintering each year.

“I used to never see birds like red bellied woodpeckers. They were southerners, but they’ve extended their range to the north,” she said. “Now we’re picking up thousands of robins. We never used to see them in wintertime. A lot stay north, perhaps because of global climate change. That’s why Christmas Bird Counts are so important. It’s very good science.”

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Read more about the bird count and its history in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.