Christmas Bird Count December 19, 2020
Did anyone notice two cars, one white and one red, roaming the island with occupants peering every which way, in the cold, all day? Santa Claus? Snoopers? Birders?
Yep, who else but ‘birders’ would scour the island in 14-23 degree temperatures? The 2020 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) volunteers. In the past the Greater Portland CBC leaders, Bill Hancock and Dan Nickerson (AKA - Ravenwatcher) organize Peaks Island CBC bird counts. This year, the responsibility fell upon Michael and Sam and their scribes, Arria and Patty. Michael chose the southern portion of the island, Sam the northern area (north of Central Avenue and Hussey Road):
Collectively 14.5 hours and 19 miles of search yielded 42 different bird species. The Bald Eagles, Pileated Woodpeckers, various owls, hawks and falcons are either stealth or have gone elsewhere, as no hint of their activity is noticed. But oh well, many fine species appear for our pleasure despite the cold.
The Downy (10), Hairy (5), and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (7), White-breasted (9) and Red-Breasted (20) Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos (19), American Goldfinches (48), Black-capped Chickadees (40), and Mourning Doves (24) are abundant busily chatting and searching for food. And let’s not forget our corvid friends on the island tallying - one Common Raven, 45 American Crows, and 20 Blue Jays. Sam and Arria fine-tune their observation skills and pick out the two tiny Brown Creepers, creeping (as its name describes) along the trunk of trees looking for insects - at Evergreen Landing and at Hussey Road.
Water birds are scattered along the shores and in Diamond Passage. Most significant are the number of Common Loons (29). Their more demure relative, the Horned Grebe is also seen off the Backshore – feeding on little fishes.
Our familiar Common Eiders are in small groups totaling 73, not in large pods as we often see them (ML). Sexes are still unbalanced this fall/winter with very few male eiders present.
Male eiders leave the females in the summer to visit their bachelor hideouts. Here they molt old feathers and replace them with new fancy ones, for tantalizing the females in the winter and spring. Currently, the ladies have few choices, though. Why are there so few males this year?
Long-tailed Ducks (50) are scattered along the shore, with significant numbers in Diamond Passage, along with their distant cousins the
Surf Scoters (21),
Black Scoters (36),
and White-winged Scoters (5).
Those cute Buffleheads (28), with their obvious white head patch and white sides are in small groups at the northern shore of the island, and in Diamond Passage – the males doing their little ‘head-back and head-bob’ mating displays.
The slender Red-breasted Mergansers (27) with their tufted crests are plentiful on the southern portion of the island, as well as a few on the northern half, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs.
Although we see only 4 Common Goldeneyes, they are a treat to the eyes.
The diminutive Black Guillemots that nest on Outer Green Island and Whitehead Cliffs in the summer appear to be less abundant this winter, than in previous years. Their winter camouflage of mottled black/grey and white plumage makes them less obvious as compared to their striking summer plumage - black body feathers with a large white wing patch, and red feet.
How does one pick favorite birds to end this blog? I choose the cormorants – two species. One is here and one has gone – this interchange of summer and winter residents occurred before the CBC. Our summer residents, the Double-crested Cormorants flew south for the winter. So what are these cormorants seen occasionally flying along the Peaks Island’s shores?
The Great Cormorant – a portrait of beauty. This regal cormorant is larger than the Double-crested Cormorants, displays a white throat patch, and sports a white spot on its flanks (most obvious during breeding season). Although this cormorant species is globally widespread, they are rare and declining in Maine. They breed on isolated islands north of here, where human influenced disturbances and Bald Eagle predation are a threat to their survival. A treat for us, though - they choose during the winter months to roost on Whitehead Cliffs. A total of 23 are located on the cliffs at dusk this CBC day. Years past, the average number was 15-17, so the increase on this roost is encouraging. (Abundance: Non-breeding season)
They are best observed with binoculars from Picnic Point or the South Shore – look for black shapes scattered along the Whitehead Cliffs. You may see them attempt a unique landing style. These large cormorants approach the cliffs low over the water, swooping upward in an arc – pushing their feet forward for a landing. If something is not right, they veer, and try again and again until they find their perfect ledge. So why do they choose these cliffs facing N-NE where cold wind and snow fly so frequently in the winter? How do they keep from slipping off ice-covered ledges at night? Impressive birds.
Please take a peek at the 42 species which are in two lists – the northern and southern areas of Peaks Island. They are located on the PILP website under 2020 Bird Lists.
1. The Cornell Lab. All About Birds.
2. Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of Birds. Vol. 1. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
3. Michael LaCombe (ML)
Reviewers: Sam Wainright, Michael LaCombe, Michelle Brown, Marty
By: Patty Wainright
Photo credits: A. Jackson; Sam Wainright, Patty Wainright