Tis the season for Christmas Bird Counts. Flip Harrington and I have just returned from Georgia where we participated in the St. Catherine’s Island CBC. We had hoped for sunny warm weather, but instead had half a day of grey drizzle and fog with the second half lighter fog. Brad Winn, our section leader, had the area along the south side of the island. Our group was to concentrate on waterfowl on the Atlantic, shorebirds on the beach and sparrows and rails in the marshes. The fog was thicker than pea soup and you could barely see beyond the length of your arm. The total for the whole island came to 134 species. Our group missed species we had seen in past years. So the CBC goes. The weather is the limiting factor.

The Vineyard Christmas Bird Count will be held on Jan. 2, 2011. CBC’s are the longest running citizen science survey in the world. This year the count period runs from Dec. 14, 2010 to Jan. 5, 2011. According to the National Audubon Society, which manages the CBCs and collects the data from these counts, the CBCs “are conducted in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces as well as several Central and South American countries, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Bahamas, the Domincan Republic, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Colombia now has more CBC circles than any other country aside from the US or Canada.”

Last year the total number of birds recorded by all the CBCs mentioned above was close to 56 million birds! Over 60,000 people participated in over 2,000 CBCs. As a reminder, Frank Chapman, the founder of Bird Lore, a magazine which became the Audubon magazine, was the person responsible for starting the Christmas Bird Count. Chapman suggested in 1900 that instead of a “side hunt” where people shot as much game as possible, people should “hunt” birds with binoculars and count and record what they had seen.

The information gleaned by the volunteers who participate in the Christmas Bird Counts makes a difference. The data shows which birds are in trouble and need conservation action and also where such actions have brought birds back from near extinction.

Rob Culbert, with a little help from me and Penny Uhlendorf, runs the CBC on the Vineyard. We divide the Island into sections and designate a leader and team for each area. We ask people to make a list of all the birds they see at their home feeders and submit the results to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-627-4850 between 2 to 5 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2011. The teams meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Felix Neck barn to report their findings. If you wish to participate in either the field or feeder counts please contact Rob at 508-693-4908 or e-mail me at birds@mvgazette.com. Let’s hope that we have better weather for the Vineyard count than we did in Georgia!

Bird Sightings

Coco Adams called to say that she spotted the leucistic song sparrow, which has been seen around the Jason fields in Chilmark for two years, on the side of the road by Lenny and Sheila Jason’s on Dec. 18.

And while we are on the subject of leucistic, Lanny McDowell heard from Mary Dacey that there was a leucistic American robin with a flock of “normal” robins feasting on crab apples in a tree off Centre street in Tisbury on Dec. 20.

Ralph Packer commented that there were a few 100 bluebills (scaup) in Lake Tashmoo and that that was more than he had seen in “umpteen hundred years.”

Lanny McDowell and Mary Dacey were returning from a Christmas party at cousin Sam Low’s when they came upon a handsome male hooded merganser that had been hit by a car. Lanny had a common grackle at his West Tisbury feeder on Dec. 20 and 21.

Felix Neck reported hosting both a male and female red-winged blackbird at the feeders on Dec. 17. On Dec. 22 a sharp-shinned hawk made a raid on the feeders.

Nancy Weaver and Margaret Curtin counted 10 black-crowned night heron and a coot along with seeing the redhead, gadwall and American wigeon at the Oak Bluff Pumping Station on Dec. 17.

Tom Engley called and left a message saying that of his winter feeder birds, the white-throated sparrow is presently his favorite.

Rob Culbert had a nice birdy ferry ride on Dec. 20. He spotted two razorbills off West Chop, three northern gannets, fifty long-tailed ducks, rafts of hundreds of common eiders, common loon and all three species of scoters.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.

Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.