Lionel Quirion knows a lot about birds: how a bluejay sings, what combination of sunflower seeds and other materials will bring them to his feeder, how a Slinky can be useful in keeping squirrels away from said feeder.

What he didn’t know was why there were so few seagulls flying over Hatch Hill Solid Waste Disposal Facility – a frequent gathering place for gulls – on New Year’s Eve morning.

“This is unusual,” Lionel said, standing outside his Subaru Forester, binoculars in hand.

Lionel was searching for gulls, and just about every other species of bird, on Saturday morning as part of an annual event held across the country: the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, in which crews of birdwatchers drive across a designated part of the state they live in and count how many of each species of bird they see.

Lionel, 72, of Randolph, was joined by his grandson, 14-year-old Myles Quirion of Augusta.

What Hatch Hill lacked in seagulls it more than made up for in bald eagles and crows Saturday. More than 100 crows circled the landfill in droves, while a couple dozen eagles perched in pine trees overlooking the facility, occasionally taking flight and joining the other birds among the trash. A few other species also hung about the landfill: Snow buntings flew through at one point, while a group of wild turkeys waddled in the woods on the edge of the property.

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The Quirions had a list of species that included doves, woodpeckers, sparrows, starlings, waxwings, creepers, mocking birds and more, and they were driving around the southeast part of Augusta, making a tally every time they spotted one of each species. At the end of the day, Lionel said, all the birders counting in the area would gather at Viles Arboretum and total their numbers.

All the numbers collected in Maine would be forwarded to the National Audubon Society, which calls the Christmas Bird Count “the nation’s longest-running citizen science bird project.”

The Augusta area count originally was scheduled close to Christmas but was rescheduled because of bad weather. Because of the snow that has fallen over Kennebec County and the ice that has formed over lakes and ponds, Lionel did not think he would see some fowl that frequent the area.

 


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