Monday, December 29, 2014

Another Successful Christmas Bird Count

Had an enjoyable Christmas Bird Count experience; our section (Lee Metcalf NWR) of the Stevensville, MT count circle found 55 species...did not detect a single House Sparrow or Starling! Temperatures were near/at 32 F all day with periods of sunshine, very nice compared to -20 F on North Dakota CBC's some years back. The wind was calm morning long with a definite uptick by early afternoon.

The group was composed of four people, perfect for the Ford Explorer used. The windows were frozen closed for the better part of an hour, however it didn't negatively effect the outcome. As the first person to arrive, I ticked off a hooting Great Horned Owl in the dark without any special effort. Thanks to the mild overnight temps, open water habitat allowed us to quickly add target species Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Virginia Rail (with assist from smartphone app) and assorted waterbirds within 30 minutes of start. By 9:30 we had reached 36 species, many that no other count circle group will tick off. This touches on strategy, that's right this birding event requires thoughtful planning.

I've previously posted ( behaviors for CBC birding success. Like identification much of these behaviors become second nature/intuitive with experience. So it came as no surprise that the Prairie Falcon and Rough-legged Hawk (few around this winter) were atop powerpoles on the route returning to the office for a decided twenty minute lunch break. After which we went into forested habitat for woodpecker, finch and nuthatch species. Did not find much for quite a while when we heard a call note, yep that's how feeding flocks are found. Craning our necks to the upper branches of Ponderosa Pine, there were the Pygmy Nuthatch (25...making their piano wire vocalizations, my interpretation) with a host of other small songbirds-great fun!!

Leaving the forested habitat, we were above 50 species for the day, but had missed Pileated and Hairy Woodpecker. We revisited wetland habitat targeting Snipe. There was a good amount of shallow water areas to look over. One of our group spied a small bird out on a mudflat...very strange! Hurriedly set up the spotting scope and surmised it was a Rusty Blackbird, yowza! Yep, closer looks and photos (header photo above) determined it was really this species. Probably a Refuge CBC first.

Backtracked to previous search area and voila...snipe flushed. By now it was late afternoon and a "mission accomplished" mentality set in. Surpassed our target of 50 species on a winter day in Montana...not bad :-) Hope you had a chance to participate in this fun birding, if not there's still time.