The White Red-tailed Hawk of Watnong Mountain (photo by Chuck Hantis)
This is an updated version of the report. The compiler missed a checklist. The total species count is adjusted to 96, not 94 as originally stated.
The 84th annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred on Sunday, December 22, 2019, the first full day of winter. Temperatures at dawn were in the 18°F range but warmed up to 46° in the afternoon. 45 dedicated participants enjoyed a beautiful day outside.
The week leading up to the count was frigid. Most shallow lakes and ponds were frozen. Enough water remained open to get some waterfowl numbers at least.
Recent rains caused local flooding but generally, conditions were as good as can be this time of year.
96 species were tallied along with two count week additions. This is better than the recent average and a testament to the wide coverage of the count circle.
2 count-week species, Common Loon, and Northern Goshawk are part of the record although not included in the actual totals for the count day (count-week is defined as three days prior to and three days after the actual count date).
The White Red-tailed Hawk of Watnong Mountain was tallied as he returns for a sixth year, at least, at his usual location along Old Dover Road near Greystone Psychiatric Hospital.
15,581 individual birds were tallied. This is an improvement over the past two years but still below the 21st century average of 25,566 and the eighty-four year average of 16,487.
Highlights for this year’s CBC are below.
- For the first time since 2003, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, and Northern Saw-whet Owl were tallied in the same year.
- Red-bellied Woodpeckers rebounded from a recent dropoff and tallied 243 individuals, the second-highest total in the history of the Boonton CBC. This species was first reported as a count-week record in 1955. It did not get counted again until 1966 when it became an official number in the database and wasn’t reported again until 1972 when one was tallied. Numbers grew unabated since then, reaching a peak of 281 in 2001 before dropping off until this year.
- Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers reached double-digits, 11, for the first time in count history. It was first reported in 1970. This shows the expanded range of this species. 2019 is the first year of confirmed nesting in Morris County, two actually, with possible 2018 nestings as well.
- Woodpecker numbers, in general, are up from recent years.
- Another new double-digit achiever and a relatively recent addition to the local avifauna, Common Raven reached their all-time high count of 12. Common Raven first appeared on the count in 2002.
- 19 Winter Wrens is the second-highest count in Boonton CBC history with 23 in 1998 as the highest.
- 1 House Wren represents the tenth occurrence of this species in the history of the Boonton CBC and the first since 2014.
- 108 Carolina Wrens is the second time this number is reached and the second highest in count history with 120 in 2006 as the highest total.
- All three mimic thrushes are represented with 3 Gray Catbirds, 2 Brown Thrashers, and 50 Northern Mockingbirds.
- A Palm Warbler was photographed at Hatfield Swamp and is only the third report of this species in the 21st century for the Boonton CBC.
- Likewise, the third Common Yellowthroat record in the 21st century was had at Troy Meadows.
- Sparrow numbers were impressive including, of all things, a record total of White-throated Sparrows, 1,591. The highest count prior to this was in 2001 with 1,554. Numbers fluctuate greatly in the interim period.
- Swamp Sparrows are well-represented. A total of 183 is only the third time in eighty-four years that triple digits of this species were counted. The last two are 102 in 1975 and 207 in 1976.
- 573 Song Sparrows is the highest total since 1,293 in 2001.
- Field Sparrows had 55 which is the most since 63 in 2006 and a pleasant rise from the low numbers experienced in recent years.
- Eastern Towhees had their second-highest total with 35. The 21st-century average is 7.0. The highest was 37 in, you may have guessed it, 2001. 2001 continues to popup with high counts because it is the all-time Boonton CBC maximum total individuals year with 62,336. It is not just because of ~20,000 Common Grackles and 17,000 European Starlings counted that year either. Eleven other species also broke the 1,000 count mark.
40 species were above their 21st Century average. Only 13 were above average in 2018. While this is a pleasant change from the downward trend in recent years, there remain troubling signs with many species and the overall total number of individuals.
Below is a graph of the total number of individuals on the Boonton CBC from 1936 through 2019. Keep in mind that total numbers did not consistently exceed 10,000 until the 1970s as the number of observers increased. A steady rise in totals is seen from the 1970s to 2001. After that, there is a decline in totals, except for the anomaly of 2013 which featured huge totals of Common Grackles and American Robins.
In the following chart, the X-axis is the year and Y-axis the total amount.
Below is a list of species experiencing the sharpest declines based on 21st-century averages. Because of the icing of many bodies of water in 2019, waterfowl and waterbirds are kept out of this survey. Most of the species also appeared on the 2018 list of declining numbers:
- Red-tailed Hawk – 25% off the average. The 21st-century pattern of overall decline continues.
- Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were 62% and 77% off of their 21st-century averages, respectively.
- Rock Pigeon – 192 in 2019 is the lowest total since counting for this species began in 1973, a continuing trend in recent years.
- Mourning Dove – 33% off ave. 334 is the third-lowest total since 1988 with 254 in 2009 the lowest.
- Am. Crows are down by 81%, a continuing trend, while Fish Crows rose by 28%.
- Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse totals are not what they used to be. Both species continue their downward trend being 60% and 50% below average respectively. 155 Tufted Titmouse is the third-lowest total since 1969. For perspective, the average total of Tufted Titmouse from 1991-2001 was 518.
- Am. Robins were down 91%, but totals of this species vary greatly from year to year.
- No. Mockingbird rebounded this year slightly but are still down 41%.
- Where have all the Starlings gone? 985 is 70% off average and the lowest total since 944 in 1970.
- Dark-eyed Juncos are down by 43%. The third year in a row of totals under 1,000.
- House Sparrow – down 54% continuing a recent decline. 2017 through 2019 represents the three lowest totals since 1971.
- Many sparrow species had a positive rise in numbers this year, but American Tree Sparrows continue a downward trend. 2019’s 168 is much better than 2018’s 32 but a far cry from the glory days of the 1970s when 1,000 plus was common.
The following species were seen by one party only. The species column is followed by the amount reported. The third column represents the percentage of occurrences in the 84-year history of the count:
|Seen by only one party
||% on CBC
||Most still water was frozen.
||Only recorded three times in the 21st-century.
||Missed the previous two years.
|Great Black-backed Gull
||Was more common in the 1980s-90s.
||Becoming harder to find.
|Northern Saw-whet Owl
||Increasingly harder to find.
||Only the 10th occurrence on the CBC.
||Some years you get them, some years you don’t.
||Documented with a photo. Nice!
||First since 2004.
||Not a winter finch season this year.
The following table shows notable species missed in 2019.
|Notable Species Missed
||% on CBC
||A scaup sp. was reported.
||Not seen since 2006.
||Missed in 3 of the past 5 years.
||A subtle increase in the area but missed this year.
||Formerly annual, now rare on the count.
||See Snipe comment.
||Not since 2014; only thrice in the 21st century.
||Not a year for Red-breasted Nuthatches.
||Annual from 1994-2013; only once since.
||Not a year for winter finches.
Below is the list of species occurring on all 84 years of the Boonton CBC. This has not changed since 2018:
- American Black Duck
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Blue Jay
- American Crow
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Tufted Titmouse
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Brown Creeper
- European Starling
- American Tree Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
- Swamp Sparrow
- White-throated Sparrow
- Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
- Northern Cardinal
- American Goldfinch
- House Sparrow
Here is the top ten of the number of individuals for all 84 years of the count:
||Total Individuals (84 years)
||Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
||American Tree Sparrow
The top ten number of individuals for the past decade, 2010-2019:
||Total Individuals (2010-2019)
||33,614 (16,694 in 2013)
||14,073 (8,790 in 2013)
||Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
Mark your calendars. Next year’s count will be on Sunday, December 27, 2020.
This report is also at the following location on the mocosocoBirds.com web site:
A list of the species found on this CBC is at the following link:
You can also access these pages through the Birds of Morris County > Boonton Christmas Bird Count menu item on the mocosocoBirds.com web site.
A wonderful 2020 to all!
Nature and Art, nothing else matters.
Jonathan Klizas, Compiler
Boonton Christmas Bird Count