By Vincent Smith, Compiler
The 112th Valley Forge Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count took place on December 24, 2011. The weather was very mild. Those conditions lead to some lingering species. Overall 73 species were observed which is a little shy of the 75 average over the 28 year history of our count. This year had the second highest number of volunteers and the second highest volunteer hours for the count. I want to put out a special thank you to all section leaders and all your volunteers. The Christmas Eve count imposed on our season of merriment, yet we had wonderful coverage. That indicates how committed everyone is to do their part in making the count a success. Thank you.
The award for “best almost species” of 2011 was a Snowy Owl observed in Spring City right outside of the Section 2 count circle by about a quarter of a mile. The bird was last seen on December 22, perched on a white trailer in a self storage business. A bit of a heart break that it did not fly into our circle, but WOW it was exciting to see. A first for me and many other local birders.
Some of the highlights that were observed on this year’s count included 2 new species. A Ross’s Goose was observed amongst a flock of Snow Geese from section 2 , plus 3 Cackling Geese amongst Canada Geese at Norristown Farm Park.
Overall the waterfowl counts appeared to have been down by both species and number. The one exception was the large flocks of Snow Geese observed by Sections 1, 2, 10. These 3 sections are all next to each other and most of the birds were in flocks heading south. Some have suggested that the low waterfowl counts may be related to high water levels on the rivers and streams or that the mild weather further north did not present a push factor.
Bald Eagles continue to make their presence felt. The first Christmas Bird Count record of this species was 1999 and species has shown up every year since 2003.
American Kestrel continues to decline. The 3 birds observed are well below the average of 19 for the 28 year history. Maybe it is time to start American Kestrel Trails nationwide like we did for Bluebirds.
Hairy Woodpeckers (44 birds) showed the highest total count over the Christmas Counts 28 year history. Pileated Woodpeckers have continued to shown a rise with 11 birds observed on this count.
Other species that may have been influenced by the mild weather included a late Eastern Phoebe from Section 7, plus 2 Gray Catbirds from Sections 3 and 4. The 29 Eastern Towhees was the highest total ever for the count. The 18 Horned Larks found at Merrimead Farm in Section 7 was a very nice find. The species has not been observed on our count since 1992.
Other species of note included the 2nd highest ever total for Blue Jays and the 3rd highest total for Common Grackles.
Of course the same mild weather may have also been the reason that so few irruptive species were observed. The only species to make a showing was a scattering of Purple Finches all observed from Section 11.
I would like to thank all the section leaders (Mike Coulter, Rick Keyser, Bruce Piecukonis, Dr. Jan Gordon, Barbara Hiebsch, Brian Henderson, Debbie Beer, Frank and Lynn Roman, Tom Reeves, Joe Hudson, and Edie Parnum) and the volunteers for making this a successful count. As a reminder the Spring Bird Count will take place on June 2, 2012. Thanks again for all of your help.
Click here to view an Excel sheet of Christmas Bird Count data.