A little bit of everything on the CBC

2006 December 18
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO. — It’s the most wonderful time of the year … Christmas Bird Count season! OK, maybe spring migration is a little more exciting, but there is an undeniable magic about the CBC. I felt a rush of anticipation and nostalgia on Friday as I explained the CBC to some British friends in Dallas.

Twenty-four hours later, I was birding 450 miles to the northeast, joining friends old and new for the Springfield CBC. The day was warm, damp, and gusty, more like late March than mid-December. Early-morning owling was a total bust; we heard nothing we could count until the small birds started stirring in the brush and hundreds of robins streamed overhead in reluctant light.

Out of a day so long and full, our minds fashion well-crafted vignettes: the Winter Wren so busy among limbs and stones, the Pileated Woodpecker taking brilliant dogwood berries, the illimitable robins on their wilted sumac heads. Robins and goldfinches bathed on a gravel bar; juncos flashed through willows. A LeConte’s Sparrow flushed from the bluegrass at our feet, short tail angled downward as it flew. A Bonaparte’s Gull floated far across the water.

I’ve already blogged our group’s two best finds. The cedars, oaks, and pastures around Fellows Lake are supporting spectacular concentrations of starlings, robins, and various blackbird species. We scoped one pasture that held an estimated 500 Mourning Doves — more than any of us had ever seen at one time.

For these good birds and big numbers, we endured groans and murmurings during the compilation potluck. Everybody knows that the Fellows Lake area holds some of the best remaining habitat in the rapidly developing count circle. Of 88 species recorded during the day, our group had 71, many of which were not recorded elsewhere.

We didn’t have all the good birds, of course. Everybody exclaimed aloud when David announced he’d relocated the St. John’s Merlin, which has returned to the hospital for an incredible fifth winter. If this is indeed the same bird, she’s getting old for a Merlin. She must be tough and smart, and lucky.

A single Eurasian Collared-Dove was reported on the 2004 count, and 19 in 2005. This year, the count leapt dramatically to 148. Cooper’s and Red-shouldered hawks and Hermit Thrush were also reported to have new high counts (thanks for the info, Dorothy).

There were misses, as always. Some instruct us about distribution; others are less explicable. I don’t think anybody had Pine Siskins or Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets were scarce. I didn’t hear one all day. Our group couldn’t find a Killdeer to save our lives, but other groups did.

I relish the excitement and camaraderie of the compilation — and the secrets, meaningful glances, and competitive jeers. I knew we didn’t have any new species for the list this year, and I waited anxiously to hear whether anyone else had either. But no, not this time.

When you bird year after year, you learn where to search for special birds. I knew exactly where to find a shrike this year, and the bird did not let me down. But you keep your eyes open for serendipity birds too, like a white-fronted goose slipping through the evening sky. After all, this is the CBC, and anything can happen.

CBC season extends to Jan. 5, 2007, so you still have time to find a count going on near you. If you’ve never been, or if you haven’t been in a long time, find a circle and start counting!

Related posts:

  1. Springfield CBC highlights
  2. Cole Camp CBC: Snow, longspurs, and owls
  3. Two Roseate Spoonbills on Vicksburg CBC!
  4. Vicksburg CBC: Exciting waterbirds abound
  5. Taney County CBC: Wet and slow

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