This column is the first of three reviewing the highlights of the Maine Christmas Bird Counts. This count season spans Dec. 15 through Jan. 5.

The Greater Portland count was held Dec. 15 and yielded 102 species. The highlight was a great black hawk, still present on count day in the Deering Oaks park area in downtown Portland. This record represents not only a first for Maine Christmas Bird Counts, but for the United States!

Nineteen species of waterfowl were found. Uncommon ducks for this time of year included a wood duck, an American wigeon, six gadwall, three Northern pintail and a barrow’s goldeneye. Sixty-three horned grebes and 36 red-necked grebes were normal counts. Both of our expected loons were present: five red-throated loons and 224 common loons.

Shorebirds included a single killdeer, a single sanderling and 57 purple sandpipers. A single dovekie and 32 razorbills, along with 15 black guillemots, made for a nice alcid count.

Lingering breeding birds are always of interest. This year’s count produced a rich diversity of such hardy (or foolhardy) birds: 10 great blue herons, a turkey vulture, four Northern harriers, a red-shouldered hawk, 10 belted kingfishers, 10 Northern flickers, three winter wrens, 19 hermit thrushes, 10 gray catbirds, two brown thrashers, four Savannah sparrows, a Lincoln’s sparrow, three swamp sparrows, a Baltimore oriole and five red-winged blackbirds. Amazing!

Northern finches were mostly absent, but a pine grosbeak and 15 pine siskins were present. Bohemian waxwings and snow buntings, present in other parts of the state, were no-shows.

The Augusta Count was also held Dec. 15, yielding 52 species. Water was mostly frozen, so the modest waterfowl count was expected. Six species were found, with mallards (152) being the most common.

The expected winter gulls (ring-billed, herring, great black-backed) were joined by one lesser black-backed gull and one Iceland gull.

A lone Northern shrike was a nice sighting of this erratic winter visitor. A whopping 308 Bohemian waxwings were tallied for an excellent early winter total. Their cousin, the cedar waxwing, was represented by 38 individuals. Irruptive finches were sparse, with 11 pine grosbeaks and 13 pine siskins present.

Lingering birds from the fall included three belted kingfishers, 16 Eastern bluebirds, a chipping sparrow and a fox sparrow. A single white-crowned sparrow was a surprise; these birds don’t breed in Maine and usually pass through in migration by early November.

The Unity Count on Dec. 15 produced 47 species. With most water frozen, waterfowl were hard to find and only five species were tallied: five Canada geese, 10 mallards, four American black ducks, one hooded merganser and two common mergansers. A glaucous gull among the 503 herring gulls was a nice find.

The Unity counters put in some nocturnal birding time and found a great horned owl and four barred owls.

Lingering migrants were absent, a striking contrast to the earlier counts in this column. Bohemian waxwings were common, with 184 showing off their beautiful plumage.

In what will likely become a common refrain, Northern finches were present, but not in the numbers we saw in November. In Unity, 70 pine grosbeaks, five pine siskins and 17 evening grosbeaks were present.

The Moose Island-Jonesport count was also conducted Dec. 15. That count produced 65 species.

Sixteen species of waterfowl included 21 harlequin ducks and a Barrow’s goldeneye among the more common coastal ducks. A single red-throated loon was found. Alcids included a thick-billed murre and three razorbills.

A snowy owl was a treat. One Northern shrike was found, no doubt terrorizing small songbirds and mammals.

Three belted kingfishers were late for this area. Irruptive finches included 17 purple finches, 11 red crossbills and six pine siskins.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at

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