Local birders find record numbers in ‘04
The Baldwin Bird Club conducted it's 63rd annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, on Monday, Dec. 27. The Christmas Bird Count was established in 1900 as an alternative to the traditional Christmas Day Hunt when people would go out to see how many different birds an individual could shoot in a day.
The modern Christmas Bird Count has developed into a very useful tool for gathering bird population data during winter conditions in the United States. Each count is limited to a circle that is 15 miles in diameter or approximately 176.6 sq miles. The Baldwin count circle is centered at the junction of U.S. Highways 56 and 59. There were two counts conducted in Kansas on the first year but the Baldwin Count, which was first conducted in 1942 by Ivan and Margaret Boyd and Ray Miller is the oldest continuous count in the state.
This year there were 12 people divided into seven parties that traveled the roads and fields looking for birds. In addition, there were nine people that recorded the number and species of birds that came to their feeders during that day. Between 5:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. the group identified 80 species. The average over the past 10 years has been 74.6 species and the high was set in 1999 at 89 species. The total number of individuals recorded this year was 26,561. The ten-year average is 17,370 and the highest count was also in 1999 with 30,021 individuals.
This was a pretty amazing year in that four new species were recorded for the count: two Ross's Geese southeast of town, 32 Cackler's Goose in various locations in the circle, a Trumpeter Swan southwest of town, and two Herring Gulls at Lone Star Lake. All of these species are associated with water and were concentrated in the few spots of open water on the 27th. The Cackler Goose is not all that unusual, but it has only been determined in the past year as a distinct species from several other subspecies of Canada Geese that normally occur in the area. The Cackler Goose is only slightly larger than a Mallard and has a much shorter bill and rounder head than the typical Canada Goose. The other three species have been recorded on one or more counts in the state for a number of years, they were just never seen before within the Baldwin circle an on the count day.
The species with the highest number of individuals counted was European Starling with 14,157. This, of course, accounted for more than half the total individual birds seen. Other high numbers included Mallards with 926, Dark-eyed Juncos (Snowbirds) with 988, American Robin with 1299, Red-winged Blackbird with 1,801 and Canada Goose with 2,590. The large number of robins is not unusual, in fact the 10-year average has been 1,477. Why people associate the "first robin with spring" is when they start breaking out of the winter flocks in March and April they begin to sing and set up territories in people's yards -- that's a sure sign that spring is not far away.
Other than the record high for starlings, the only other record high count was 287 Eastern Bluebirds. The numbers of bluebirds has been high the past 10 years but what might have increased this year's numbers on the count is the increased number of cedar and poison ivy berries in the area when compared to the past few years of drought. Almost all waterfowl were seen at either Lone Star Lake, which is located in the northwestern portion of the count circle, Douglas County State Lake in the northeastern portion, or several small ponds in the southeastern portion of the circle. All three had some small amount of open areas in the ice. This year we had 18 species dependent on open water compared to the usual 10 species. Some of the common species normally seen, but missed this year were Wilson's Snipe, Lincoln Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, and Rusty Blackbird.
The weather was fairly pleasant with a low of 27 and high of 48 degrees. It was windy, however which made it more difficult to find the birds. The Christmas Bird Count is conducted each year within a two week period around Christmas and New Years. The results are tabulated and published by the National Audubon Society. The record serves as a means to determining year to year or long term changes in bird populations. The participants on the 2004 count included Richard Bean, Jan, Jon and Roger Boyd, Anna and Bill Busby, Cal Cink, Sandy Johnson, Katharine Kelley, Becky and Danny McMillan, Barbara and Martin Pressgrove, Ruth Scott, and George Wiley, all of Baldwin; Gerry Parkinson of Lawrence; John and Kris Brockway of Ottawa; Larry Williams of Kansas City; and Mike Luck of Liberty, Mo. Anyone interested is the project can join in next year.