In Augusta, there was enough open water for two common loons to linger, as noted in the annual Christmas Bird Count in Maine. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The 123rd year of the National Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) has just concluded. Each CBC is conducted within a circle of 15-mile diameter on a single day between mid-December and early January. The data provide a powerful means for assessing changes in winter bird abundance and distribution. There were a number of the highlights at some of the Maine CBCs.

The York CBC, held on Dec. 19, produced a list of 84 species. Thirteen species of waterfowl were present with over a thousand Canada geese and 32 harlequin ducks as highlights. A single lingering double-crested cormorant was found along with the more-expected 24 great cormorants.

Four members of the auk family were present including a dovekie and a thick-billed murre.

A super find was an eastern screech owl. This species seems to be slowly moving northward into our state. Some eastern bluebirds have been overwintering in Maine and that number seems to be increasing. A total of 136 of these blue beauties were tallied.

Two great blue herons, three winter wrens, 24 Carolina wrens, a hermit thrush, three gray catbirds, an eastern towhee, a red-winged blackbird and a common grackle had not been impelled to move south to more hospitable winter climes.

The unpredictable northern finches were mostly absent this year with a single purple finch and seven pine siskins.

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Let’s head way Downeast to Machias Bay where the count was done on Dec. 30. Fifty-five species were counted. A dozen waterfowl species were present, with the 527 buffleheads being most abundant.

Only three red-throated loons were present along with 27 common loons. Grebes were scarce with just seven horned and five red-necked grebes. Only three species of gulls showed themselves. No rare gulls this year.

Both species of waxwings were present: 42 bohemians and 47 cedars. One northern flicker and six red-winged blackbirds were the only lingering birds. Northern finches put on a good show with two pine grosbeaks, 54 red crossbills, 97 white-winged crossbills, three pine siskins and two evening grosbeaks.

Off to the northwest to Grand Lake Stream where 21 species were counted on Dec. 15. Enough open water was present to support 12 American black ducks, 12 mallards, three hooded mergansers and two common mergansers.

Four common ravens outnumbered the single American crow. A single tufted titmouse and two northern cardinals are evidence of the continued northward expansion of these two species in the state. The only finches on the count were 10 American goldfinches.

Now to two inland CBCs in central Maine: Augusta and Waterville. The Augusta count yielded 49 species on Dec. 17. Six species of waterfowl were led by 375 Canada geese. Mergansers put on a good show with 37 hooded mergansers and 117 common mergansers.

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Two common loons found enough open water to cause them to linger. Iceland gulls are always a good sighting and the two here were unusual for this winter in Maine so far. A single red-shouldered hawk was a nice find for the winter in central Maine.

Among the songbirds, the most abundant were American crows (849) and black-capped chickadees (684). Hardy lingering birds from the summer included two Carolina wrens, 105 eastern bluebirds and two northern mockingbirds. The finch tally included 15 purple finches and a dozen evening grosbeaks.

The Waterville count was held the following day and produced 60 species. Eight species of waterfowl were found, headlined by two bufflehead and two Barrow’s goldeneye. Unlike Augusta, mergansers were hard to come by, just six each for hooded and common mergansers.

Hardy (or foolhardy) lingering birds included a great blue heron, three northern flickers, five Carolina wrens, 10 eastern bluebirds, a northern mockingbird and six savannah sparrows. Northern finches were uncommon with five purple finches, three pine siskins and 14 evening grosbeaks.

The Waterville CBC is usually one of the more reliable counts for Lapland longspur. This year just a single bird was found.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at [email protected]


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